Bundesgerichtshof

The Karlsruhe judges limited the liability for damages for Volkswagen in individual cases.

(Photo: dpa)

Berlin The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) clarified further open questions about the VW diesel scandal on Thursday. In principle, Volkswagen is liable to pay damages for manipulated diesel vehicles, the highest German civil court had determined in May. However, the BGH narrowed the obligation to pay damages in various judgments on Thursday. It was about the time of the vehicle purchase, the mileage and interest payments since payment of the purchase price.

In one case (Az. VI ZR 5/20) the plaintiff acquired a used VW Touran from a car dealership in August 2016 for a purchase price of EUR 13,600. This was equipped with an EA 189 diesel engine. VW had informed the public about problems with the software used in these engines in an ad hoc announcement in September 2015, i.e. before the vehicle was purchased.

The plaintiff insisted on compensation for immoral deception, but has so far been unsuccessful in all lower courts. Most recently, the Koblenz Higher Regional Court had argued that the plaintiff could not explain why, despite the extensive media coverage following the ad hoc announcement, it should have remained hidden that the vehicle had been equipped with the impermissible switching logic.

The BGH agreed with this view. “The exhaust gas scandal was dominant for months,” said judge Stephan Seiters. The defendant’s notification dated September 22, 2015 was objectively suitable for “destroying the confidence of potential buyers of used cars with VW diesel engines in proper exhaust technology”. There is therefore no claim for damages due to intentional immoral damage.

In another case (Az. VI ZR 397/19), a vehicle owner not only sued for damages. In August 2014, it acquired a used Golf that was equipped with an EA 189 diesel engine. In addition to the reimbursement of the purchase price, the plaintiff also claimed payment of tort interest. Consumer lawyers saw the claim as justified because VW had deliberately manipulated. The tort interest can amount to up to four percent of the purchase price after payment.

No compensation for a mileage of 255,000 kilometers

Unlike the Oldenburg Higher Regional Court, the BGH does not see any claim to tort interest. These would usually only be due if an item could not be used due to fraud or immoral behavior. In this case, however, the plaintiff, according to the BGH, received a fully usable vehicle for the purchase price. In such a case, interest does not correspond to the purpose of the provision to compensate for a loss. On another occasion, the BGH also spoke of an “unjustified overcompensation”.

The BGH imposed limits on damages in another case. In May 2014, a plaintiff purchased a used VW Passat for 23,750 euros. The diesel vehicle had a mileage of 57,000 kilometers. The vehicle owner, whose vehicle now has a mileage of 255,000 kilometers and was decommissioned in 2018, sued for damages. In the BGH’s opinion, this claim is not justified in this case (Az. VI ZR 354/19).

Because with the amount of the compensation, the usage compensation must be taken into account. And with frequent drivers it can happen that nothing remains of the compensation. The formula chosen by the Higher Regional Court to calculate the benefit in use (gross purchase price times the distance traveled since the purchase divided by the expected remaining mileage at the time of purchase) was not objectionable.

The Higher Regional Court assumed a total mileage of 250,000 kilometers. “Today’s judgments are an important step towards the final conclusion of the pending diesel proceedings,” said a VW spokesman. The essential legal questions have now been clarified.

More: US car buyers get almost $ 10 billion from VW.

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