The critical first High Court hearing in the class-action lawsuit being brought against Volkswagen for its actions in the Dieselgate scandal will kick off today (Monday) with a hearing over whether the company’s two-litre diesel engine was fitted with a defeat device.
Lawyers will argue the case over two weeks, with a judgement expected in spring 2020. Ahead of the trial, Slater and Gordon, leading the class-action lawsuit, described the hearings as “a decisive point”.
“VW has had plenty of opportunity to come clean, make amends and move on from this highly damaging episode,” said Gareth Pope, head of group litigation. “But instead it’s chosen to spend millions of pounds denying the claims our clients have been forced to bring,” he added.
Volkswagen said that it will continue to “defend robustly our position in the High Court”. In a statement to Autocar it added: “Volkswagen Group maintains that there has never been a defeat device installed in any of its vehicles in the UK."
The company said the specific legal point under consideration is “whether the legal definition of a defeat device is met in certain circumstances.”
If Volkswagen's lawyers win, the case is unlikely to progress further. If the ruling goes against them, the case will move to a second phase that is unlikely to play out until late 2020 or 2021. If VW is ultimately found guilty, it could be ordered to pay hundreds of millions in compensation.
It has also emerged that there is a dispute over how many owners are represented in the lawsuit. Slater and Gordon claims '100,000 motorists', but VW argues that the number is 86,000.
The number of motorists represented has fluctuated and gone down in recent months as duplicate and irrelevant claims are weeded out. Some Jeep and Jaguar owners had to be taken off the list, Autocar has been told.
The trial will be held under civil rather than criminal law – it is about compensating motorists rather than punishing any wrongdoer. As such, the legal arguments will centre on three points under the so-called ‘threefold test’.
Slater and Gordon will have to win all three for motorists to gain any compensation from Volkswagen in a trial tipped to take eight or nine months, with both sides expected to deploy an army of technical experts to help argue their case.