Judges have heard from lawyers representing motorists making damages claims over ‘defeat devices’ in diesel cars of their concerns over ‘secrecy’.
It’s the latest stage in a massive case of securing compensation for motorists in the wake of the Volkswagen ‘dieselgate’ scandal, which began in September 2015.
It’s believed car manufacturers are dealing with more 1.2m compensation claims from claimants living across the UK, four judges overseeing a pre-trial hearing in London heard on Friday (Dec 8).
Dame Victoria Sharp, Mrs Justice Cockerill, Mr Justice Constable and Senior Master Jeremy Cook were told that Mercedes-Benz was facing more than 300,000 claims – and that manufacturers including Opel, Nissan, Jaguar Land Rover, Ford, Volvo, Hyundai, Toyota and Mazda were also among defendants in a ‘mammoth’ legal action.
The scale of the litigation might be ‘unprecedented’, may run on for years, and legal costs could run into ‘billions of pounds’, lawyers told the hearing staged in Court 4 at the Royal Courts of Justice.
Carmakers are fighting the case – a spokeswoman for Mercedes, which is facing most claims, said the company would mount a vigorous defence.
Barristers representing claimants said judges were going to have to ‘grapple’ with issues relating to the ‘confidentiality’ of manufacturers’ documents.
Oliver Campbell KC said, in a written case outline, that it was ‘already apparent’ that defendants in the ‘Mercedes litigation’ were taking an ‘expansive view to confidential information’.
Tom de la Mare KC said Mercedes was ‘insisting’ there were ‘state secrets’.
He suggested that issues which should be aired would not be aired because some hearings would have to be staged in private.
‘There is the greatest public interest in the fullest reporting of the conduct in question,’ de la Mare said.
‘This court is going to have to grapple with these issues early.’
De la Mare, who described litigation as ‘juggernaut’, said it would be ‘fundamentally unsatisfactory’ if detail of what manufacturers ‘did or did not do’ was ‘kept secret’.
Lawyers representing Mercedes said confidentiality issues were not being raised on a ‘spurious basis’.
They said some vehicle technology was subject to confidentiality.
The four judges considered issues relating to the management of the litigation and the timetabling of further hearings.
They heard that further issues were scheduled to take place in 2024 and 2025.
Campbell told judges that there were 1.25m claimants and about 1,500 defendants, once dealerships were included.
He suggested that the Mercedes case could be the ‘lead’ case.
The Mercedes case involved a ‘wide range’ of ‘defeat devices’, he said.
He suggested that evidence considered would relate to a ‘sample’ number of vehicles.
Lawyers representing some manufacturers told judges, in a written case outline: ‘In short, it is plain that, unless properly and carefully managed, it is no exaggeration to say that resolving the … litigation will cost billions of pounds.’
One barrister, Leigh-Ann Mulcahy KC, described the litigation as ‘mammoth’ and possibly on an ‘unprecedented scale’ and said there issues relating to what a ‘defeat device’ was.
In 2022, Volkswagen agreed to pay £193m to more than 90,000 vehicle owners after it settled a group claim for compensation brought in the wake of emissions-testing revelations eight years ago.