Autoblog has published an in-depth interview with Lieff Cabraser founding partner Elizabeth Cabraser focusing on the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal and her role as Lead Counsel for the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee in the litigation surrounding VW’s 2015 admission that it had doctored engine software in millions of vehicles to produce reduced emissions during formal testing. In late July 2016 Judge Charles Breyer of the U.S. District Court granted preliminary approval to a $14.7 billion settlement in the Volkswagen diesel emissions case, where more than 500 federal lawsuits have been filed and consolidated into one complaint against the automaker for its “dirty diesel” vehicles.
Autoblog’s interview covers a wide range of topics, from the nuances and mechanics of Cabraser’s management of the Volkswagen emissions litigation to her past experiences in cases such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the BP Deepwater Horizon environmental disaster. Cabraser’s unique vantage point on the case provides extraordinary insight into the VW case, one of the largest in U.S. history. Asked about the sheer size of the litigation, she noted, “it’s complicated because people have to make decisions about their own cars and then the parties have to make sure those decisions are honored and implemented and compensated in a real and accountable way. We have to do that with approximately 475,000 vehicles, so that’s 475,000 decisions that people have to make….”
The challenge … is to try to use the legal processes that we have, the laws that we have, the remedies that we have … to actually fix the problem.
With respect to affected U.S. Volkswagen owners and lessees, Cabraser commented, “The decision that people have to make at this point in time is really the front-end threshold position. Do I participate in the buyback now or do I wait for the fix to be approved to see if it’s something that’s going to work for me? And that’s the choice people have, and of course, they can change their minds at any point in the process.”
Cabraser addressed the underlying nature and scale of the VW litigation, pointing out that, “when I talk about the litigations, I talk about it as a case or a lawsuit, actually it’s a consolidation of hundreds of lawsuits that were brought last fall in the wake of the scandal and had to be coordinated through the federal court system. One judge, one court, one place.” And more: “This is litigation by committee and this is litigation, that under the court’s directive, has had to move at warp speed for very compelling reasons, which is to get out there and reduce the environmental harm and reduce the problem.”
You didn’t invest in the right way in the low-emissions technology that you promised, so guess what? You’re going to invest in everybody else’s.
The Volkswagen emissions settlement is one of the largest payments in American history and many times higher than the previous automotive industry record. It exemplifies the best of the American judicial system, illustrating the resolution of a significant portion of one of the most massive multidistrict class actions at what Law360 referred to as “lightning speed.” By way of contrast, the average duration of MDL cases from filing to close that closed in 2016 through June 15 was five and a half years, according to data from the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.
Ms. Cabraser’s full interview is available online on the Autoblog website.