| villorejo, Shutterstock

'Unprecedented' lawsuits filed against Volkswagen

A trio of lawsuits were filed Tuesday by the states of New York, Massachusetts and Maryland against auto manufacturer Volkswagen over alleged violations of the states’ environmental laws.

The lawsuits appear to break new ground. A spokeswoman for Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh told AMI Newswire the lawsuits are “unprecedented,” and the National Conference of State Legislatures is unaware of previous lawsuits by multiple states against a single manufacturer.

The lawsuits were filed in a coordinated action but in all three separate states, against Volkswagen and its U.S. subsidiaries Audi and Porsche, for the devices the company allegedly illegally installed in its automobiles to dodge pollutant emission tests. The complaint also names senior company executives.

The lawsuit states that, since 2008, more than 25,000 cars in New York were fitted with the contraband emission devices, plus another 15,000 in Massachusetts and nearly 13,000 in Maryland. In some cases, the devices allowed Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche cars to release emissions at 40 times the federal limit, particularly in high-traffic areas such as  New York City and the heavily-traveled I-95 corridor along the East Coast.

“Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche installed defeat devices in their cars to trick regulators and to deceive the public; they did so knowing that their conduct was illegal and their misconduct has hindered our efforts to clean the air and to clean the Chesapeake Bay,” said Frosh, the Maryland attorney general. “Their disregard for the health of our citizens and their disregard for our environment must be punished.”

In a statement to AMI Newswire, Volkswagen pointed out that it has already agreed to a massive settlement with various U.S. and state authorities.

“The allegations in complaints filed by certain states today are essentially not new and we have been addressing them in our discussions with U.S. federal and state authorities,” Jeannine Ginivan, senior manager of corporate and internal communications, said in an email. “Volkswagen continues to work cooperatively with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board on a comprehensive national resolution of all remaining environmental issues arising from the diesel matter.”

The statement goes on to note that Volkswagen has already agreed to repurchase or modify certain vehicles, establish a $2.7 billion environmental trust fund for all 50 U.S. states, and invest another $2 billion toward the manufacture and use of zero-emission vehicles in the U.S.

“It is regrettable that some states have decided to sue for environmental claims now, notwithstanding their prior support of this ongoing federal-state collaborative process,” Volkswagen’s statement reads.

But the lawsuits by the New York, Massachusetts and Maryland attorney general offices follow a nine-month-long investigation by a coalition of more than 40 states, and call Volkswagen’s settlement efforts only “partial.” The investigation revealed a blatant cover-up, the lawsuits allege, and the settlements have not resolved still-pending civil lawsuits that may still be filed against Volkswagen.

Specifically, the lawsuits allege that Volkswagen cars were tested in a West Virginia University study that discovered discrepancies in their emissions. When confronted with the study, company officials tried to cover up the problem and only belatedly told federal regulators about the special devices, the suits claim.