VW and Freshfields mount defence as British car owners demand £3k each over emissions scandal

Harcus Sinclair is set to bring the first major UK High Court action against Volkswagen (VW) on behalf of British customers.

The firm has applied for a group litigation order (GLO) to bring the case with, so far, an expected 10,000 VW car owners, and has invited other firms including Slater & Gordon, Irwin Mitchell and Leigh Day to join the legal challenge.

VW’s lawyers Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer are contesting the GLO, which will go before a court hearing on 30 January. Freshfields partner John Blain is leading VW’s defence.

Harcus Sinclair has secured an unknown amount of funding from litigation funder Therium Capital Management to bring the case.

The firm has set up a website for owners of cars effected by the emissions scandal to join the case. Since launching this morning the website is understood to have brought in more than 800 new claimants. Affected cars include VW, Audi, SEAT and Skoda vehicles with 1.2, 1.6 and 2.0 EA 189 diesel engines manufactured between 2009 and 2015.

The value of the claim is currently estimated at £3,000 per car.

Harcus Sinclair partner Damon Parker said in a statement: “It is only right that UK car owners affected by the scandal have the opportunity to seek compensation.  We have secured funding so that those affected can bring this claim against VW at no cost to themselves. The group action aims to ensure that, if VW is found to have misled consumers about the environmental damage caused by their cars, they are penalised accordingly so as to discourage this sort of behaviour from happening again.”

Parker has instructed Henderson Chambers’ Oliver Campbell QC, Adam Heppinstall and Nazeer Chowdhury, 39 Essex Chambers’ Gregory Treverton-Jones QC and Hailsham Chambers’ Alexander Hutton QC on the claim.

Slater & Gordon partner Jacqueline Young added: “VW has shown utter contempt, not just for the rights and health of their UK consumers but also for the environment. This legal action is the best opportunity that British customers will have for holding VW to account over this scandal.”

VW has reached a $15bn settlement with around 500,000 car owners in the US, but legal actions are ongoing in Europe. Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan has launched a shareholder claim against the manufacturer in Germany with funding from Bentham Europe.

In Ireland, US firm Hausfeld has teamed up with Irish firm O’Dwyer Solicitors to sue VW. O’Dwyer secured the first European court order for discovery against Volkswagen last June, which is expected to have a significant impact on all other claims brought by firms in EU countries.

VW first instructed Freshfields to defend claims related to its emissions scandal in the UK and Europe in late 2015. Lawyers from Freshfields’ London office are working closely with a team from Kirkland & Ellis in Washington, which is representing the car manufacturer in the US.

The magic circle firm was also instructed by VW in Germany to handle its recall of 2.4 million vehicles, with Freshfields’ Frankfurt partners Rolf Trittmann and Thomas Tschentscher and Hamburg partner Michael Haidinger leading the mandate.