A Co Mayo solicitor, who is representing some 87 clients planning to take cases against Volkswagen over the emissions scandal, said last week the company had a very different attitude in its letters of apology to car owners last October than in its legal responses to subsequent claimants.
Mr Evan O’Dwyer was before Judge Mary Devins, making an application for discovery of documents in Castlebar, on Friday last (May 27) at the opening of the first District Court case about the matter in the country. A number of cases, arising from the scandal, are also before Dublin Circuit Court.
Mr O’Dwyer was representing Ms Eithne Higgins, a nurse, with an address at Portobello, Croughan, Boyle, Co Roscommon. Her 2010 diesel Seat Leon, bought in Ballyhaunis, was among the 115.000 cars sold here, and 11 million worldwide, which had software that could have manipulated emissions when being tested.
Because of this manipulation, Ms Higgins claims she paid the incorrect amounts of Vehicle Registration Tax and Motor Tax and claims monetary loss, damage and inconvenience.
Mr O’Dwyer referred to a statement by the, then, newly appointed chief executive of the Volkswagen Group, Matthias Muller on September 25, 2015: “My most urgent task is to win back trust for the VW Group – by leaving no stone unturned and with maximum transparency.”
Mr O’Dwyer told the court that the global giant had set aside $67bn to “deal with the mess” but had already threatened his client with pursuing her for costs, despite the fact that her maximum award in the District Court could only be €15,000.
REPRESENTING Volkswagen Group Ireland and Volkswagen AG, Mr Paul Fogarty (BL) on behalf of A&L Goodbody, argued that there “were serious factual deficiencies in the proceedings” since the client’s claims were premised on issues relating to NOx emissions and not the CO2 emission issue. He also argued that since there were so many similar cases – 11 already issued by Mr O’Dwyer in six different district court areas – that the President of the District Court should be asked to consider appointing a specific judge to hear all the cases in the Dublin Metropolitan District. Mr Fogarty noted too that Ms Higgins did not have a contract with his clients, Volkswagen.
Mr O’Dwyer argued that by Volkswagen’s own reckoning they cannot confirm there isn’t an overlap between the NOx and CO2 issues.
He referred to a Volkswagen Group press release on February 2 last, which stated: “The aim of VW was always to ensure that these measures do not result in a change to fuel economy figures, performance figures or CO2 or noise emissions of the vehicles effected.”
Judge Devins asked would the motion for discovery of documents clarify this matter.
“I am absolutely in the dark about this, despite their claims of transparency,” Evan O’Dwyer said.
Judge Devins reminded Mr Fogarty that each district court area was an autonomous entity and that she would thus proceed with the case in Castlebar. She said the issues about the CO2 and NOx emissions could be resolved when she hears the order for discovery of documents.
All parties agreed to the motion for discovery application proceeding after 12 noon on June 7 next.