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High Court rules Volkswagen used emissions defeat device

The High Court has ruled today in favour of thousands of consumers that Volkswagen used a 'defeat device' on some of its diesel cars which was able to cheat emissions tests.

Posted on 06 April 2020

Although the preliminary issue trial was not a trial of the whole action, the ruling by the High Court means that Volkswagen are responsible for having installed defeat devices in the  claimants’ cars overcoming a significant hurdle in establishing liability to the group of around 91,000 claimants who brought the legal action following reports in September 2015 that vehicles were able to ‘cheat’ the emissions tests in order to be approved for sale. 

In the judgment handed down today Mr Justice Waksman described some of Volkswagen’s arguments that the vehicles did not contain defeat device as “completely irrelevant” [154], “hopeless” [172] and “highly flawed” [220]. The judge described VW’s argument that the German transport authority’s decision as to the existence of the defeat device was not binding as “an abuse of process” [421].

The next stage in the legal case will include consideration of the losses payable to the claimants, which may include some of them recovering a percentage of the purchase price they paid for their vehicles.

Law firm Leigh Day were appointed joint lead solicitors in the case with Slater & Gordon. The legal team at Leigh Day was led by partner Bozena Michalowska-Howells with associate solicitor Shazia Yamin.

Bozena Michalowska-Howells, solicitor from law firm Leigh Day, said:

“Today’s ruling is hugely significant for our clients who have been battling for four years to hold Volkswagen to account. In reaching his decision the judge rejected virtually all of Volkswagen’s arguments and found that the vehicles were fitted with illegal defeat devices. Our clients bought their vehicles in good faith and are fully entitled to expect them to comply with the law. Many of our clients have been horrified to find out that they had been driving vehicles which were much more harmful to the environment than they were led to believe. We hope that Volkswagen accepts the court’s decision and we urge them to now do the right thing and put their customers first by entering into settlement negotiations so that our clients are not forced to drag VW through the courts and be faced with further years of litigation to determine their losses.”


The trial on this issue was held at the High Court over 10 days between 2-6 and 9-13 December 2019.

The court was asked to decide two questions:

Question 1: Is the Court is bound by the decisions of the German (the KBA) and UK (the VCA) vehicle type approval authorities that the affected vehicles contained a defeat device, in circumstances where those findings could have been appealed but were not. 

Question 2: Do the vehicles contain a defeat device under the applicable law?

The court ruled that it was bound by the KBA decision, under European law, and that the affected vehicles contained a defeat device. The court ruled that it was not bound by the decision of the VCA but that this is immaterial because the court ruled that all the affected vehicles were fitted a defeat device.

Volkswagen have, following lengthy litigation, eventually settled similar claims in Germany and Australia but have continued to deny the claims in the UK.

This article was updated on Monday 6 April 2020 at 5.45pm.