New Mexico has joined the increasing number of plaintiffs suing Volkswagen (VW) over their alleged deliberate deception where toxic air emissions are concerned.
According to the New York Times, the state may be the first to actually file a lawsuit against the automaker for cheating on emissions tests, but they may not be the last. The suit was filed by Attorney General Hector H. Balderas Jr., in the U.S. District Court for the District of Santa Fe on January 19, 2016.
New Mexico Seeking Compensation for Emissions Violation
According to the complaint, the plaintiff states that VW violated New Mexico’s air quality standards when they installed their so-called “defeat devices” onto the diesel engine vehicles—which were advertised as being environmentally friendly, yet high performance. Though New Mexico is the first state to seek compensation for the damages, VW is also facing an emissions lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“Supported by a massive advertising campaign,” the plaintiffs state in their lawsuit, “defendants claimed that superior engineering allowed their cars to perform better, consume less fuel and emit fewer harmful pollutants than diesel cars of the past, making them a great fit for eco-conscious consumers. In fact, the complete opposite was true.”
After months of trying to pass emissions issues off on technical issues, VW finally admitted to having installed the defeat devices in September 2015, after the California Air Resources Board and the EPA discovered the discrepancy. VW diesel engine vehicles would seem to be in compliance with emissions laws during emissions testing, but then under normal driving conditions, were found to emit higher levels of toxins—nitric oxide, in particular, was found to be emitted at levels against the law.
Lawsuits Could Result in Billions in Fines and Damages
At the time, VW admitted to installing defeat devices on some 11 million VW and Audi vehicles around the world in an attempt to pass emissions tests, but keep vehicles attractive to consumers wanting fuel efficiency and quality acceleration.
New Mexico states in their VW emissions lawsuit that between 4,000 and 10,000 affected vehicles were sold in their state, including Beetles, Jettas, Audis, and Porsche Cayennes. Emissions of nitric oxide have been linked to health problems, like asthma and other respiratory issues, and Balderas wants the automaker held liable.
Prosecutors seek penalties for each day the air quality laws were violated, as well as for the automaker to forego profits made from selling the defective vehicles. Any damages received, however, will likely pale in comparison to those that may result from the federal government lawsuit, which has been estimated to potentially expose VW to more than $20 billion in fines.
Over 500 VW Lawsuits Pending in California
In addition to these lawsuits, VW faces a number of individual lawsuits filed by vehicle owners around the nation. Current estimates are that over 500 of these cases are pending in federal court alone. The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) consolidated all federally filed cases in the Northern District of California in December 2015. Judge Charles R. Breyer recently appointed a former FBI head to help negotiate potential settlements between the parties.