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Court rejects damages claims against Volkswagen and Swiss importer

VW cars in a factory
VW was caught using illegal software to cheat pollution tests in 2015, triggering a global backlash against diesel and numerous court cases around the world that have so far cost the German company €30 billion euros ($33 billion). Keystone / Julian Stratenschulte

A Zurich commercial court has dismissed claims for damages by a consumer group against the German car firm Volkswagen and Swiss importer Amag, linked to the “Dieselgate” emissions-rigging scandal.

In a December 6 ruling published on Tuesday, Zurich canton’s commercial court said the SKS consumer group did not have the legal status or procedural capacity to file a complaint.

SKS had filed a claim for damages on behalf of around 6,000 Volkswagen diesel cars owners in Switzerland, who it claims were misled over the green credentials of the vehicles. The consumer group said the vehicles had lost value due to the Dieselgate scandal.

VW was caught using illegal software to cheat pollution tests in 2015, triggering a global backlash against diesel and numerous court cases around the world that have so far cost the German company €30 billion euros ($33 billion).

With its court action, the SKS had hoped to send a political signal that would help open the way for collective legal proceedings in Switzerland.

In a statementExternal link, the consumer group for German-speaking Switzerland expressed its surprise at the Zurich judges’ arguments. It said its role was to “safeguard the interests of consumers”, and that it would continue to work toward the creation of collective legal instruments as part of the revision of the Federal Law on Civil Procedure, which will be discussed next year in parliament.

Tuesday’s decision may also be appealed to the Federal Court, Switzerland’s highest body.

Another blow

It is another blow to the consumer group. The Zurich court had already refused to enter into proceedings on a separate collective action by SKS seeking to establish that VW and Amag had misled buyers and violated Swiss law. And last February this was confirmed by the Federal Court, which rejected SKS’s appeal against this decision.

In Switzerland, the disputed EA189 diesel engine had been fitted on models of the VW, Audi, Seat and Skoda brands sold in the country between 2008 and 2015. Software had been used to reduce emissions during emission controls. But the engine has not been marketed in Switzerland since 2015. 

Meanwhile, the consumer group for French-speaking Switzerland (FRC) has chosen a different path to SKS. It has joined a collective complaint in Germany by the European Consumer Organisation involving tens of thousands of customers. 

Germany’s Federal Court of Justice has admitted claims for compensation of buyers of a car fitted with an EA189 engine. However, VW still contests the fact that the customers suffered any harm.

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