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Multiple Tennessee Lawsuits Filed Over Volkswagen Emissions Scandal

When we typically think about a car manufacturer’s product liability, it is in the context of a design flaw that leads to accidents, injuries, and sometimes death. But as the recent scandal surrounding German car manufacturer Volkswagen illustrates, an intentional defect may injure a customer financially, if not physically. Courts in Tennessee and throughout the country may soon determine just how serious those injuries are.

Volkswagen Accused of Using “Defeat Devices”

Regulators in the United States and Europe set emissions standards for motor vehicles. These standards limit the amount of certain pollutants the vehicle may generate. It is possible, though illegal, to install what is known as a “defeat device” on a car, which can held evade these government standards.

On September 18, U.S. and European officials formally accused Volkswagen and its sister brand Audi of installing software in several diesel cars manufactured between 2009 and 2015. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the affected vehicles “include software that circumvents EPA emissions standards for certain air pollutants.” In effect, the software only enforces the EPA’s emission standards when the vehicle is actually being tested; otherwise it emits nitrogen oxides, a key pollutant, “at up to 40 times the [legal] standard.”

Approximately 11 million Volkswagen and Audi vehicles sold worldwide may now be subject to recall. For its part, Volkswagen acknowledged it “did not comply” with regulatory restrictions on defeat devices. Nonetheless, the automaker told Volkswagen and Audi owners “this is an emissions issue and your vehicle is safe to drive.”

Car Owners Sue Over Likely Lost Value, Higher Fuel Costs

But even if the use of illegal defeat devices do not render cars less safe, owners may still have multiple legal claims against Volkswagen. Indeed, at least 34 lawsuits have already been filed around the country, according to news reports, including several in Tennessee. Most of these lawsuits seek class action status against Volkswagen and many of its U.S.-based dealers.

In one such lawsuit, filed in Chattanooga federal court, a group of seven plaintiffs sued Volkswagen’s parent company and a Tennessee-based dealer for fraudulent concealment and violating Tennessee consumer protection law. The plaintiffs, Volkswagen owners in Tennessee and Georgia, argued they purchased their cars “at least in part” because they believed they were purchasing “clean” or “green” diesel vehicles which met or exceeded federal emissions standards. And once Volkswagen completes a government-mandated recall to remove the illegal defeat devices, the plaintiffs allege their cars “will no longer perform as they did when they were purchased or as advertised.” This will increase the plaintiffs’ fuel costs and ultimately reduce the resale value of their vehicles.

Need Advice on a Product Liability Issue?

It will likely take several years for the courts in Tennessee and elsewhere to settle these class actions. Volkswagen has already set aside several billion dollars to not only deal with the recall, but also expected government fines and possible civil judgments. Meanwhile, millions of car owners are faced with the inconvenience of returning their vehicles to correct a problem they did even know existed until a few weeks ago.

If you are dealing with a recall caused by a manufacturer’s negligence, it is important to seek out advice from an experienced Tennessee product liability attorney who can advise you of your legal rights. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, in Clinton or Knoxville to speak with someone right away.

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