ECJ Advocate General: Diesel buyers are entitled to compensation

ECJ Advocate General: Diesel buyers are entitled to compensation

According to the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), the car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz is obliged to pay compensation to buyers of diesel cars with defeat devices. The purchaser of a vehicle with an illegal defeat device has a claim for compensation against the manufacturer, Advocate General Athanasios Rantos said. It is up to EU member states to determine methods for calculating such a claim for compensation, he said. In the case at hand, a car owner sued for reimbursement of the purchase price minus compensation for use upon return of the Mercedes passenger car. The Ravensburg Regional Court had appealed to the ECJ to clarify whether the car manufacturer was liable. In its ruling, the court often follows the assessment of the Advocate General.

Mercedes-Benz stated that the opinion of the Advocate General was not binding for the court and did not want to speculate on the outcome of the case. Plaintiffs’ lawyers, on the other hand, see good chances of enforcing damages if the court follows the advocate general. "Mercedes-Benz has to expect another wave of lawsuits," said attorney Claus Goldenstein. He said the opinion puts pressure on the entire auto industry and strengthens consumers’ rights. The legal dispute in the wake of the diesel emissions scandal represents tens of thousands of lawsuits against Mercedes-Benz and other manufacturers.

The issue is the temperature-controlled exhaust gas purification system, the so called ‘’thermal window”. The manufacturers had interpreted a passage in EU law, according to which this may be throttled at low temperatures to protect the engine, very broadly. Mercedes-Benz has not yet been ordered to pay damages by the German Federal Supreme Court (BGH). Regional courts and higher regional courts have so far largely rejected claims against the Stuttgart-based automaker. In proceedings against the former Mercedes parent company Daimler, the BGH had ruled that there was no entitlement to damages even if the technology was illegal. This was because the carmaker had not intentionally harmed the buyer, and the EU legal situation had been unclear. Daimler had at best acted negligently. The ECJ had already set very narrow limits on the thermal window technology in a ruling in December 2020. Advocate General Rantos declared in a case against VW in September 2021, which has not yet been concluded, that the thermal window is fundamentally unlawful. In the proceedings against Mercedes, the Ravensburg Regional Court now wanted to clarify whether a precondition for liability also exists in the case of negligence. This would be the case if the EU law on type approval of vehicles also protects the interests of individual purchasers. In Rantos' view, it does. In particular, he said, the interest "in not acquiring a vehicle with an unauthorized defeat device is protected."

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