In a pivotal decision, the High Court has designated legal claims against Mercedes, along with two other vehicle manufacturers to be determined later, as the primary claims in the diesel emissions scandal. This paves the way for claims against more car manufacturers to open up in the near future. Similar court action against Volkswagen resulted in consumers pocketing over £2.1k per diesel claim on average.
What Has Changed?
In the past, allegations of diesel emissions have been addressed on a case-by-case basis, starting with legal actions against Volkswagen and Mercedes. However, considering the similarities among these cases, the current approach seems notably inefficient. There is now consideration for consolidating litigation hearings involving multiple manufacturers. This shift has the potential to streamline proceedings and reduce legal costs in future diesel emissions cases, possibly allowing claims to be pursued against numerous manufacturers simultaneously.
The decision is a significant step forward in the group claims made by 1.2 million UK vehicle owners against 16 global car manufacturing groups. These claims allege that the manufacturers attempted to cheat emissions tests by using prohibited ‘defeat devices’ in their vehicles.
Diesel Emissions Claims
During a case management hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice, representatives engaged in group actions linked to the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal revealed to the court that the litigation holds a value in the billions of pounds.
Due to the massive scale of these claims, the High Court conducted a one-day hearing on December 8 to simplify the management of cases. The aim is to reduce costs, minimize delays, and make efficient use of court resources.
Previously, Group Litigation Orders (GLOs), which manage individual claims as a group, were running independently against each manufacturer. However, concerns were raised about significant overlap in legal, factual, and technical issues. The recent hearing ruled that the claim against Mercedes should proceed as the lead GLO, along with two ‘additional lead GLOs’ related to two other emissions cases. All other existing and prospective GLO applications will be heard at a consolidated three-day hearing on January 17-19, 2024.
During the December 8 hearing, lawyers representing vehicle owners argued that making Mercedes the lead claim would efficiently resolve common legal and factual issues applicable across other emissions cases.
The court also ordered parties to agree on terms for sharing confidential information across different group claims before the next hearings in January 2024. Disputes related to confidentiality within the Mercedes GLO and other claims will be addressed at a Case Management Conference (CMC) hearing on January 19, 2024.
A further hearing in March 2024, including the additional lead GLOs, will address issues related to sample vehicles and whether they contained prohibited ‘defeat devices.’ It will also consider the timetable for future hearings, and potential trials in February 2025, as well as issues around costs, information disclosure, and any other legal arguments.
The defendants, who stand for certain manufacturers, responded by proposing that a trial focusing on legal issues should come before any decision on a lead case. They underscored the vast scale and unprecedented nature of the litigation. Leigh-Ann Mulcahy KC, acting on behalf of the defendants, asserted that a trial involving Mercedes might not adequately tackle all the pertinent issues, as challenges may not emerge uniformly across cases.
Martyn Day, senior partner at Leigh Day, expressed satisfaction with the High Court’s focus on moving the emission claims forward at a reasonable pace. He noted that car manufacturers often aim to delay proceedings and highlighted that the recent decision ensures the claims are likely to be resolved in the next couple of years, with a potential trial regarding defeat devices in early 2025.
The emissions claims, known as NOx Group Litigation, involve 16 vehicle manufacturing groups, including Mercedes, Vauxhall/Opel, Nissan/Renault, Volkswagen/Porsche, Peugeot/Citroën, Jaguar/Land Rover, Ford, BMW, FCA/Suzuki, Volvo, Hyundai-Kia, Toyota, and Mazda.
Law firms representing claimants making joint submissions at the hearing include Leigh Day, bringing proceedings against nine manufacturer groups; Pogust Goodhead, bringing claims against 13 groups; Milberg LLP, and Hausfeld & Co LLP. Together, these firms will jointly represent over 1.2 million people who own a vehicle.