A Maine law firm Thursday filed a class-action lawsuit against Volkswagen over the carmaker’s recent admission that it rigged emissions tests on its “Clean Diesel” vehicles.

Verrill Dana, based in Portland, filed the lawsuit against Volkswagen Group of America Inc. on behalf of plaintiffs Sean Mahoney and Ayres Stockly, residents of Falmouth and Cumberland, respectively, and other Maine residents who own Volkswagens installed with software that helps the cars cheat on emissions tests, according to the suit.

Filed in the U.S. District Court in Portland, the suit accuses Volkswagen of fraud, breach of warranty and other violations of federal and state law. It is the first suit filed against Volkswagen in Maine, according to Thomas Newman, a partner at Verrill Dana and chair of its business and commercial litigation practice group.

“I think the bottom line is it’s about fundamental fairness,” Newman said Thursday. “What we all believe is that cheaters who cheat to make a profit shouldn’t be allowed to keep the profit they cheated for. This suit is designed to basically protect Maine residents who are the victims of that fraud.”

The German carmaker has faced a tidal wave of criticism since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Sept. 18 accused the company of intentionally violating federal law by selling vehicles installed with software that allows them to cheat. According to the EPA, the software turns on the full emissions control system during emissions testing, but turns the system off during normal driving. The EPA claims the software was installed on roughly 482,000 diesel passenger cars sold in the United States since 2008.

Volkswagen executives admitted to the deception, and subsequently disclosed that an internal investigation suggests as many as 11 million vehicles worldwide could contain the software. Martin Winterkorn, Volkswagen’s CEO, said the company was “deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public,” and resigned Wednesday.


The illegal software is known to be installed in the Volkswagen Jetta, Beetle, Audi A3 and Golf from the 2009-2015 model years, as well as the Passat from the 2012-2015 model years, with 2-liter, four-cylinder Type EA 189 diesel engines, according to the lawsuit.

According to data collected by the state, there are 18,747 Volkswagens registered in Maine. Of those, slightly more than 7,000 fall into the models identified above, although there’s no way to know from the data how many of those vehicles are powered by diesel engines. According to “Car and Driver” magazine, about 20 to 25 percent of Volkswagens sold in the United States have diesel engines.

Mahoney, who owns a 2011 Volkswagen Jetta Sportswagen TDI, and Stockly, who owns a 2013 Passat TDI, are the plaintiffs, but Newman said his team filed the suit on behalf of all Maine residents who own the affected Volkswagens and has asked the court for class-action status. Newman said he doesn’t yet know exactly how many Volkswagens in Maine are installed with the illegal software, but he estimated it’s in the thousands.

“Despite touting itself and its cars as ‘clean’ and ‘green,’ Volkswagen sold thousands of cars to Maine citizens that produced emissions up to 40 times the allowable levels and artificially and deceptively maintained fuel efficiency and performance levels that the owners had come to trust,” the lawsuit says. “Maine residents now find themselves driving cars that pollute ferociously, that violate state and federal law, that are worth substantially less than they bargained for, and that cannot be fixed without depriving the owners of the features they came to expect.”

The EPA has ordered Volkswagen to recall the vehicles and repair them. Car owners like Mahoney and Stockly haven’t received recall notices yet, Newman said, leaving them with unappealing options.

“They can drive their vehicles knowing they pollute at 40 times the allowed level, or they go without a car and do something else,” Newman said. “If they try to sell it on the market, it would be at a significant loss at this point.”


People who own the affected Volkswagens are driving illegal cars, but Newman said he doesn’t believe they need to worry about legal action.

“It’s technically illegal, but clearly the government won’t pursue criminal action against consumers driving those vehicles,” Newman said. “It’s just not their fault.”

Verrill Dana’s lawsuit is one of roughly three dozen class-action lawsuits filed in the United States against Volkswagen in the last few days. While some of those lawsuits request national class-action status, the Verrill Dana suit only proposes a Maine class, according to Newman.

For the suit to succeed, Newman said Volkswagen should be ordered to “make Maine consumers whole.”

“What that means, it’s too early to tell, but I know one thing: Replacement and fixing the cheating devices doesn’t come close to being enough,” he said. “We think Volkswagen should be forced to disgorge profits they made by cheating to the consumers they cheated.”

Meanwhile, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills announced Thursday that her office has opened an investigation into Volkswagen’s disclosure.

“Maine is proud to carry forward the environmental legacy of Sen. Ed Muskie and the critical role he played in securing passage of the Clean Air Act,” Mills said in a statement. “By increasing pollutants in the air we breathe, VW is putting at risk the health of Maine people and our environment. Consumers also have a right to believe the information they are provided by manufacturers is truthful. The charges that VW has, or attempted to, circumvent emissions standards by manipulating software in the car is a very serious charge and Maine will work with other states and the federal government to ensure this is appropriately investigated.”


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