German court critical of VW position in first Dieselgate civil suit

Countless owners of Volkswagen vehicles in Germany could have a claim to damages due to the company’s emissions-cheating scandal, according to a preliminary assessment by judges at the country’s top court for civil proceedings.

Almost five years after the scandal first broke, Tuesday’s hearing at the German Federal Court of Justice (BGH) was a new milestone in Volkswagen’s litany of legal battles, as the court considered for the first time a lawsuit from a duped VW customer.

The case was brought by a plaintiff from the south-western German state of Rhineland-Palatinate who is seeking a full refund from Volkswagen, around 31,500 euros (34,454 dollars), for a used car he bought in 2014.

The judges were sceptical of Volkswagen’s argument that diesel car owners had not suffered damages as a result of the software that their vehicles had been fitted with to cheat environmental standards tests.

“Contrary to the preliminary view of the BGH, we are not of the opinion that the purchase of a vehicle alone constitutes damage,” a Volkswagen spokesman said in response.

He noted that the affected vehicles could still be driven.

When it eventually comes, the German court’s ruling will set an important precedent for hundreds of thousands who unknowingly bought vehicles fitted with cheat devices.

A higher regional court in the city of Koblenz has previously ruled that the man should get back some of the amount he paid for the vehicle – a ruling that is being appealed by both VW and the plaintiff.

Volkswagen Group recently agreed to pay damages to 235,000 owners of its cars in Germany, in order to avoid a class-action lawsuit. The company is to pay out up to 830 million euros under the deal, negotiated with the vzbv consumer group.

But tens of thousands of consumers are still planning to sue the carmaker individually, after it emerged in September 2015 that millions of its vehicles were far less environmentally friendly than the company was claiming.

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