The European Courts ruled this week that the owners of vehicles equipped with devices that manipulate their emissions have the right to compensation, news highly anticipated by customers affected by the scandal known as “dieselgate”, uncovered in 2015 and by which it was discovered that the Volkswagen group had equipped millions of its vehicles with a device that allowed them to emit 40 times more pollutants than what was allowed.
The German Justice and German consumer organisations have already obtained some compensation from the company. The ruling refers to a case between an individual and the Mercedes-Benz company. The consumer claims before the Regional Civil and Criminal Court of Ravensburg (Germany) compensation from the company for the installation of a computer program that reduces the rate of exhaust gas recirculation when outside temperatures are below a certain threshold, thus increasing nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions.
The ruling is based on Regulation number 715/2007, on the type approval of motor vehicles, with regard to emissions from passenger cars and light commercial vehicles, a European standard that, according to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), “establishes a direct link between the automobile manufacturer and the individual purchaser of a motor vehicle, the purpose of which is to ensure to the latter that the vehicle complies with the relevant Union legislation”. It is for the German regional court to consider whether the software included in the affected Mercedes-Benz can be considered a “defeat device”, which is the key to proceeding with compensation.
This direct link between the manufacturer and the buyer is established because European standards require the company to deliver “a certificate of conformity” which, among other aspects, “certifies that it complied with all regulatory actors at the time of its manufacture”. This “allows the individual buyer of a vehicle to be protected against non-compliance, by the manufacturer, with its obligation to market vehicles that comply with the regulations”. In other words: the manufacturer and the buyer have an agreement that the vehicle will comply with European standards, and that includes that it does not have prohibited defeat devices. According to the CJEU, the law “establishes a direct link between the car manufacturer and the individual purchaser of a motor vehicle”.
For this reason, the high court, based in Luxembourg, rules that European standards “protect, in addition to general interests, the particular interests of the individual buyer of a motor vehicle against its manufacturer when said vehicle is equipped with a device of deactivation”. “Therefore, the Member States are obliged to provide that the buyer of the vehicle enjoys a right to be compensated by the manufacturer of the vehicle,” the text states.
In Spain, the FACUA consumer association have been spearheading a campaign for compensation since news of the case first broke. They have offices around the country where experts can advise on appropriate action if you have been affected by the scandal.