Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog
Elizabeth Cabraser, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein

Elizabeth Cabraser on the VW Diesel Settlements: A Road to Justice for Consumers & the Environment

As a result of Volkswagen’s conduct in installing “cheat devices” in its 2.0-liter and 3.0-liter diesel engines to evade emissions standards, consumers “became unwitting accomplices in one of the biggest auto-related scandals in U.S. history, driving vehicles that were emitting as much as 40 times the permitted levels of nitrogen oxides into the earth’s atmosphere.” In an op-ed piece published today by The Recorder, Elizabeth Cabraser anatomizes the VW case and its attendant historic settlements, unprecedented for their scope and complexity, combining consumer compensation, environmental relief, fines and penalties, coordinated by the Department of Justice, EPA, California Air Resources Board and California Attorney General, the Federal Trade Commission and class plaintiffs.

“Many feared that the scandal would play out like so many corporate scandals have done before: with a slap on the wrist to the corporations responsible, while leaving consumers and the environment holding the bag.

“Fortunately, for both the environment and consumers, this will not be the case.”

Ms. Cabraser serves as Plaintiffs Lead Counsel and Chairs the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee in the historic In re: Volkswagen “Clean Diesel” MDL, 15-MD-2672-CRB (JSC), representing over 550,000 Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche diesel owners and lessees. Nine months of intensive negotiation and extraordinary coordination for the class by Ms. Cabraser and the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee produced class settlements for 2.0-liter vehicles totaling $10 billion approved by Judge Breyer in October 2016, and class settlements for 3.0-liter engine vehicles valued to at least $1.2 billion approved in May 2017.

As her piece notes, “While protecting and compensating consumers was our top priority, we heard from many customers who said that providing justice for the environment was equally as important; after all, many of them bought these vehicles because they were sold as being more environmentally friendly. Federal and state agencies (including the Department of Justice, EPA, FTC, and California’s Attorney General and Air Resources Board) did not sit idle—they brought their full enforcement powers to bear. As a result, in companion agreements with the federal government, Volkswagen will also pay billions of dollars for environmental remediation and to promote Zero Emissions Vehicle technology.”

As Ms. Cabraser concludes, “This resolution empowers tens of thousands of consumers to take a stand and rid the environment of these polluting vehicles once and for all. At the same time, it sends a strong message to all powerful entities, particularly those that may think they are above the law, that with damaging conduct comes the most severe of consequences, from all corners of our justice system.”

Read the full piece on The Recorder site (subscription).