Mercedes-Benz appears before High Court for first time over emissions scandal claims

  • Mercedes-Benz is said to be facing more than 330,000 compensation claims
  • Lawyers say it’ll be the largest consumer group action before the English courts
  • They want a group litigation order to link their claims for damages
  • Cases are against the manufacturer and authorised dealerships
  • Mercedes denies all the allegations
  • Judge’s ruling is to be made at a later date

Mercedes-Benz has made its first appearance before the High Court as it battles claims that it illegally fitted ‘defeat devices’ to diesel vehicles to swerve emissions tests.

Law firms representing hundreds of thousands of consumers and businesses sought to link their claims for damages against Mercedes – which denies the allegations – at a hearing in London yesterday.

The High Court was told that the German manufacturer is facing more than 330,000 compensation claims from motorists.

It’s alleged to have ‘deliberately misled’ customers over whether its cars complied with emissions standards through the ‘concealment’ of the forbidden tech.

The bid to bring what lawyers claim will be the largest consumer group action before the English courts is the latest legal development in the aftermath of the ‘dieselgate’ emissions scandal.

Last May, Volkswagen agreed to pay £193m to more than 90,000 UK vehicle owners after it settled a group claim for damages in the wake of the emissions-testing revelations that began in 2015.

The legal teams for the motorists and Mercedes have agreed on the need for a group litigation to manage the numerous cases against the manufacturer and its authorised dealerships.

Oliver Campbell KC, for the car owners, said multiple law firms were helping bring around 336,000 claims and proposed that law firms Leigh Day and Pogust Goodhead act as lead solicitors in a group claim.

He told the court the ‘core allegation’ against Mercedes was that it ‘manufactured and sold vehicles with defeat devices in breach of the emissions regulations’ for which it had ‘no tenable defence’.

In written arguments, the barrister said it was alleged that affected vehicles would pass regulatory testing but the devices would ‘turn down or, in some cases, turn off’ nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions control systems in ‘normal’ conditions.

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He said that under EU rules ‘the use of defeat devices that reduce the effectiveness of emissions control systems is generally prohibited’ and Mercedes allegedly knew that, during normal use, their effect was to ‘produce far higher amounts of NOx than was permitted’.

He added that Mercedes was allegedly aware the devices ‘were unlawful and that they could not be justified by the need to protect components of the engine’.

The lawyer said Mercedes was accused of being involved in an ‘unlawful cartel’ linked to the use of its AdBlue technology and faced claims of ‘deceit’ and that it had breached emissions regulations and competition law.

However, Helen Davies KC, representing Mercedes, said in written submissions that it ‘denied entirely’ liability over the alleged inclusion of ‘defeat devices’ in its vehicles.

She said there were ‘crucial differences’ between the cases against it and the Volkswagen litigation, and that ‘significant care’ was needed when referring to it.

The barrister said ’emissions control is complex’ and that there was ‘significant variation in the hardware, software and calibration of parameters’ of the ‘very wide range’ of vehicles involved in the claims against it.

She said the manufacturer would show that there was no ‘reduction of effectiveness’ in its systems.

The hearing before Judge Barbara Fontaine ended with her ruling over certain issues that are still disputed to come at a later date before a group litigation order can be approved.

In an April 2020 ruling against VW, Mr Justice Waksman said ‘the software function in issue in this case is indeed a defeat device’.

Car owners’ lawyers argued Volkswagen ‘cheated’ European emissions standards, which were designed ‘to save lives’, by installing unlawful ‘defeat devices’ in its diesel vehicles.

But the multi-million-pound out-of-court settlement was subsequently reached with no admissions being made by the car manufacturer about liability, causation or loss.

UPDATE (Feb 13): In a statement to Car Dealer, Mercedes-Benz said: ‘The hearing concerns a group litigation order application that was filed at the High Court.

‘The application is a procedural step to consolidate individual claims that claimant law firms have filed to date.

‘We believe that the claims are without merit and will vigorously defend ourselves against them or any group action with the necessary legal means.’

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