LONDON/AMSTERDAM Around 220,000 car drivers in the Netherlands, England and Wales joined forces on Tuesday in what could become a pan-European lawsuit against German carmaker Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) seeking compensation over its "dieselgate" emissions scandal.
UK law firm Harcus Sinclair and Dutch Foundation "Stichting Volkswagen Car Claim", a U.S.-style class action on behalf of an estimated 180,000 Dutch VW car owners, have teamed up in a move that could spark a wave of coordinated litigation across Europe.
VW, Europe's biggest carmaker, has said about 11 million cars worldwide were fitted with software to cheat diesel emissions tests that are designed to limit car fumes blamed for respiratory diseases and global pollution.
The company has already agreed to spend up to $25 billion in the United States to address claims from owners, environmental regulators, states and dealers and has offered to buy back about 500,000 polluting U.S. vehicles.
But it has not reached a similar deal in Europe and faces billions of euros in claims from customers and investors.
The carmaker has offered European drivers a software update for all affected vehicles, but lawyers say this does not resolve the problem and they are demanding adequate compensation.
The Dutch Foundation, which says it has been trying to reach a "reasonable settlement" with VW since 2015, said it was also "cooperating" with partners representing drivers in Austria, Germany, Switzerland and was in talks with others in Spain, France, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic and Scandinavia.
"We are delighted to be teaming up with Harcus Sinclair UK Limited, who have done an excellent job in paving the way for car owners to seek redress from VW through the courts," said Guido van Woerkom, director of the foundation.
The expanding lawsuit is seeking compensation for damage suffered by VW, Audi, SEAT, Skoda and/or Porsche car owners, alleging VW and supplier Bosch were responsible for the sale of cars that breached toxic nitrogen oxides emissions rules.
"To date, the owners of the 8.5 million affected European cars remain in the cold," said Harcus Sinclair, which launched its case in January 2016 and has signed up about 41,000 English and Welsh VW drivers. A London trial is expected in early 2019.
VW said it took the trust of its customers very seriously, but it saw no legal basis for consumer lawsuits, as its plans to fix cars in Europe had been coordinated with regulators and price fluctuations for diesel cars were within a "normal range".
"All vehicles affected are and have been technically safe and roadworthy. They can be driven on roads without any limitations and can be sold without loss in residual value," it said in a statement. "Even if we were to hold talks with law firms we would maintain this position."
(Additional reporting by Andreas Cremer in Frankfurt; Editing by Mark Potter)