Dieselgate: Belgian court forces VW to pay back 5% of purchase value

A Brussels Court of First Instance has ordered Volkswagen to pay damages to those affected by the cheating software scandal in which it is embroiled. The German carmaker must reimburse them 5% of the purchase price of their car. Consumer organization Test Aankoop/Test Achat (TA) had filed a class action or group claim for this, in addition to a classic procedure.

TA started a class action against the car group and the importer, D’Ieteren, in 2016. The consumer organization did so after Volkswagen admitted it had equipped 11 million diesel cars worldwide with cheating software. This allowed the emission values of these vehicles to be falsified during tests, while emissions were much higher under normal conditions.

D’Ieteren said it had sold more than 300 000 such vehicles of the Volkswagen, Audi, Seat, and Skoda brands in Belgium.

‘Prohibited manipulation tool’

The trial started before the Brussels Court of First Instance in May of this year. The court has now ruled that the software is a “prohibited manipulation tool” and constitutes “unfair trade practices”.

By marketing the vehicle, consumers were given misleading information that the car met all required approvals and applicable standards, the court said. Moreover, Volkswagen concealed the manipulation and thus withheld information, the verdict said.

According to the court, however, only Volkswagen is liable. In the case of the other group brands against which the proceedings were brought, it could not be proved that they were aware, could, or should have been aware of the manipulation. This also applies to importer D’Ieteren.

The Porsche vehicles are also left out. TA could not prove that vehicles were designed, developed, or equipped with cheated software.

5% of the purchase price

TA had demanded a full refund of the purchase price, but the court deemed that unjustified. Duped buyers will be compensated 5% of the purchase price. Those who have since sold their car are entitled to 5% of the difference between purchase and resale price.

Buyers must also reside in Belgium and have purchased their vehicle from September 1, 2014, to September 2015. Their car must be on a list attached to the court’s decision, and the owners must not have performed a software update.

Victims must make themselves known according to the terms of the judgment. They have four months after publication of a reference to the judgment in the Belgian Official Gazette. This occurs immediately after the expiration of the appeal period unless an appeal has been lodged. The judgment will also be published in full on the FPS Economy, SME, Self-employed, and Energy website.

TA is pleased with the ruling. “When TA decided to enter the dieselgate fight, the organization was declared crazy by some. Many lost their heart along the way, but TA persevered. This is a historic and far-reaching verdict for consumer protection in Belgium and throughout Europe. Even if the road to compensation is not yet complete.” It is not yet clear whether Volkswagen will appeal.

€30 billion in fines

In 2015, reports from the US Environmental Protection Agency, following a study conducted by West Virginia University, signaled that certain Volkswagen and Audi vehicles contained that infamous cheating software.

Afterward, the automaker was convicted in several countries for using that software. In the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and two US states, among others, it reached settlements compensating car buyers.

The European Court of Justice handed down two judgments in which the original software and the update performed later were considered prohibited manipulation devices.

Former Audi boss Rupert Stadler got off with a suspended prison sentence and a fine after his involvement in the dieselgate scandal. Two executives of Volkswagen America were imprisoned in the US due to the investigations.

The Volkswagen Group has already paid more than €30 billion in fines and compensations, most in the US.


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