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Chicago lawsuits add to growing list of Volkswagen diesel emissions deception class actions

By Scott Holland and Jonathan Bilyk | Sep 24, 2015

Volkswagen golf gtd

Several Illinois and Indiana residents have joined their names to a growing list of named plaintiffs in class action complaints against Volkswagen over allegations the carmaker had designed its diesel cars to deceive government emissions detectors into believing their cars were more environmentally friendly than they actually are.

Micah Dorn, of Cook County, and Peter Haralovich, of Indiana, filed a class action against Volkswagen in Chicago federal court on Sept. 21. Illinois couple Brian and Kristen Hellweg followed suit on Sept. 23.

Both lawsuits come in the wake of reports that, since 2009, Volkswagen has violated the Clean Air Act by marketing “clean diesel” engine cars that still function as high-performance automobiles. The company is accused of installing “defeat” devices to bypass fuel emissions controls as well as “switch” devices to bypass Environmental Protection Agency compliance testing. As a result, they allege, the affected vehicles “spew as much as 40 times” the legally allowed pollution levels.

Since Sept. 18, online federal court records reveal at least 50 federal lawsuits have been filed against the automaker since the alleged violations were first reported.

Dorn purchased a 2013 Volkswagen Jetta, and Haralovich, a 2010 VW Jetta. The Hellwegs purchased a 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen, and say at least 500,000 others did as well. They were attracted to this model specifically because Volkswagen “touted it as an environmentally friendly car with low emissions, food mileage and better performance against the hybrids from other manufacturers.” The complaints reference Volkswagen’s marketing materials for its turbocharged direct injection diesel engine, and indicates the defective vehicles include the Jetta, Beetle, Audi A3 and Golf from the 2009-2015 model years, as well as Passats from the 2014-2015 model years.

The company’s “greener than ever claims,” the Hellweg’s complaint states, “cannot be reconciled with recent testing,” citing a May 15, 2014, report issued by West Virginia University’s Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines & Emissions, which “found significantly elevated nitrogen oxides emissions when the defective vehicles were driven in real world conditions.”

The EPA and California Air Resources Board presented emission reports to Volkswagen, leading to a December 2014 voluntary software recall. When that failed to remediate the pollution problem during further CARB testing, and when it became clear “the EPA and CARB would not approve certificates of conformity for Volkswagen’s 2016 model year diesel cars, (Volkswagen admitted) that it designed and installed a defeat device in this vehicles in the form of a sophisticated software algorithm that detected when a vehicle was undergoing emissions testing.”

During normal operating, the complaint details, the software switched to “road calibration” mode, which reduces “effectiveness of the emission control system and increase(s) emissions of nitrogen oxides 10 to 40 times above EPA compliant levels.”

Since the EPA says the road calibration mode and switch capability do not conform to the specifications Volkswagen listed in its certificate of conformity application, the complaints accuse Volkswagen of violating the Clean Air Act each time a new defective vehicle entered the sales inventory.

The complaints include allegations of fraud, concealment and violations of consumer fraud and deceptive practice laws in Illinois and Indiana, among other charges.

In addition to the request for certification as a class and a jury trial, the Hellwegs asked the court to declare the vehicles defective; make Volkswagen financially responsible for notifying all class members about the vehicles; order Volkswagen to stop selling or leasing the vehicles; eliminating the illegal defeat devices from all vehicles; and refund the purchase price of the cars in question, plus interest and legal fees.

Dorn and Haralovich requested unspecified compensatory and punitive damages from VW.

The Hellwegs are represented by the firm of Power Rogers & Smith, of Chicago.

Dorn and Haralovich are represented by the Clifford Law Offices, of Chicago.

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Organizations in this Story

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)Power Rogers & SmithClifford Law