A Casper law firm filed a federal class action lawsuit Wednesday against Volkswagen on behalf of Wyomingites who bought cars installed with software designed to cheat emission tests.
The German automobile manufacturer admitted last year to installing “defeat devices” in its vehicles to evade clean air standards.
The suit, filed by attorney Jason Ochs, contends Volkswagen deceived its customers by requiring them to pay high prices for vehicles marketed as “clean, fuel efficient and powerful,” according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming. In fact, the cars emitted up to 40 times the amount of nitrogen oxide allowed under United States law. The devices were installed in VW cars dating back to 2009.
Ochs filed the suit on behalf of Casper resident Ron Weiss, who purchased in 2013 a Volkswagen Jetta from Fremont Volkswagen in Casper. Weiss bought the diesel version of the Jetta specifically for the lower emissions marketed by VW, according to the lawsuit. A defeat device was installed in the car.
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“People thought they were buying clean diesel vehicles that would be efficient and not only safe for the environment, but also safe for their health,” Ochs said during a phone interview Thursday. “In order for Wyomingites to seek their day in court, there needed to be someone and some firm to step up and represent them. My firm is honored to represent Wyomingites all over the state, any of whom have been victims of these corporate decisions.”
Ochs said Weiss reached out to his firm for legal assistance. Weiss was unavailable for comment Thursday.
Had Weiss known about the defeat devices before purchasing his Jetta, he would never have bought the car, Ochs said.
Nitrogen oxide pollutants have been linked to respiratory- and cardiovascular-related illnesses, the lawsuit contends.
A phone call to Mario Guerreiro, executive vice president of group communications for Volkswagen of America, went unreturned Thursday.
Officials became aware of Volkswagen’s actions after a clean air group tested the emission levels of certain diesel cars. The International Council for Clean Transportation found in 2014 that the levels of nitrogen oxide emissions by Volkswagen’s diesel models were significantly higher than permitted by federal regulations, according to the lawsuit.
The group notified the Environmental Protection Agency of its findings. The California Air and Resources Board commenced an investigation into the reasons for the elevated emissions. Meanwhile, Volkswagen asserted the higher emissions were related to technical issues, and issued a recall of the cars.
In May 2015, testing to determine the effectiveness of the recall found that nitrogen oxide emissions were still significantly higher than they should be. Eventually, Volkswagen admitted to installing the defeat devices.
The lawsuit claims Volkswagen knew the devices were meant to bypass emission standards. This is because, during federal tests, the emission control system operated at its highest levels, but it operated at lower levels when the car was not undergoing official testing.
The EPA has ordered Volkswagen to recall nearly 500,000 cars with the defeat devices and modify them so they comply with emission requirements.
The lawsuit requests a judge order Volkswagen to buy back the cars purchased by Wyomingites that contain the defeat devices, or institute a free replacement program for the cars, or remove the defeat devices and ensure the cars comply with emission standards while also retaining their promised fuel efficiency and drive performance.
U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer in San Francisco has been tasked with overseeing consumer lawsuits filed throughout the country against Volkswagen.
Ochs said if his case were to go to trial, it would be tried in in front of a Wyoming jury.
Follow crime and courts reporter Lillian Schrock on Twitter @lillieschrock.