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Automakers can face dieselgate suits where cars bought: EU court adviser

(Reuters) – EU consumers should be able to sue carmakers in their national courts if they have bought cars with emission cheat devices installed, an adviser to the Court of Justice of the European Union said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Protests against Germany’s “Dieselgate” in front of Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure where ministers and car executives hold a meeting to agree ways to cut inner-city pollution to try to stave off bans on diesel cars and restore the tarnished reputation of the country’s auto industry in Berlin, Germany, August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo

The opinion, if followed by Europe’s top court, raises the possibility that Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) could face masses of legal complaints from consumers across the European Union.

Contacted by Reuters, VW had no immediate comment.

The case followed a request from an Austrian court handling a claim by the Austrian consumer association VKI on behalf of 574 owners of manipulated vehicles. The court wanted to know if it had jurisdiction to hear the case.

Advocate general Campos Sanchez-Bordona said the general rule was that applicants should sue in courts where the defendant is domiciled. However, in cases of tort there was also the possibility of suing in the courts of the place where a harmful event occurred.

The VKI wants compensation for the difference between the price consumers paid for vehicles, and the value of a manipulated vehicle. It also wants coverage for future damages, such as a drop in the value caused by driving bans.

The advocate general concluded the place where the damage occurred was the place where the car was bought.

“A company can be sued by the purchasers of vehicles that it manipulated before the courts of the member state where the vehicles were purchased,” the court said in a statement.

The court typically rules within two to four months of such opinions. Judges follow them in the majority of cases, but are not bound to do so.

VW fitted 360,000 vehicles in Austria with defeat devices, according to a report by the European Commission.

The company admitted in 2015 to using illegal software to cheat U.S. diesel engine tests, a scandal that has cost it more than $30 billion in vehicle refits, fines and provisions.

Nearly all U.S. owners of affected cars agreed to take part in a $25 billion settlement in 2016 in the United States.

The carmaker is in talks with Germany’s consumer protection organisation to seek a deal in a class action lawsuit there.

Reporting by Kate Abnett; additional reporting by Jan Schwartz; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Barbara Lewis

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