Volkswagen legal team walks out of Castlebar court
Judge says case over emissions devices ‘will go on without Hamlet’
The Mayo case is likely to have international ramifications for VW.
In the latest twist in the Volkswagen emissions scandal the car firm’s legal team walked out of Castlebar District Court on Tuesday afternoon after District Court Judge Mary Devins decided to proceed with the case.
The case is being taken by a Co Roscommon nurse against the global auto giant for installing so-called cheat devices designed to mislead US emissions tests. An estimated 11 million cars worldwide are affected.
The solicitor representing claimant Eithne Higgins, who owns a 2010 Seat Leon affected by the scandal, has also claimed that he, his client and Castlebar District Court have been “systematically bullied” by Volkswagen’s legal team “in an attempt to goad them into taking a judicial review”.
Responding to the action by the Volkswagen legal team, Judge Devins said: “The court will continue to hear the case without Hamlet.”
Representing Volkswagen Group Ireland and Volkswagen AG, Paul Fogarty (BL) on behalf of A&L Goodbody argued that the court did not have jurisdiction and his legal advice was that he should proceed with a judicial review and therefore did not propose to deal with complex affidavits.
In a statement issued on Thursday evening VW said it walked from court as it intended to seek review of the case by a higher court and in such circumstances its lawyers were of the view that it would be inappropriate for continue “to avoid it being said to have accepted the jurisdiction of the court to continue hearing the claim at this stage.”
An expert witness, Stephen McDonnell, head of technical services at Volkswagen Ireland summonsed by the claimants legal representative, Evan O’Dwyer, also failed to turn up to the hearing.
Proceeding after the respondent’s team absented themselves, Evan O’Dwyer read Mr McDonnell’s affidavit into the record, after calling his client’s expert witness, Michael P Lehmann, an attorney with US law firm Hausfeld. The Hausfeld legal team had been party to a $15 billion settlement reached in relation to class action taken against VW in the US.
Other witnesses for the claimant included Dr Horace Calvert Stinton, an emissions expert, and Robin Noble, an economist. An affidavit was also read into court from Nobel prize-winning economist Professor Joseph Stiglitz.
Earlier Judge Devins outlined the case history to date and how she had carefully considered her jurisdiction over it. It had first come before her on May 27th last when Mr O’Dwyer, a Mayo solicitor, took the first of some 87 clients’ cases against Volkswagen.
Judge Devins said she had accepted that Ms Higgins’s car which had been bought in a Co Mayo garage was bought from an agent of the maker and that she had thus accepted jurisdiction.
On Tuesday morning the car firm’s barrister, Paul Fogarty, said that under legal advice Stephen McDonnell, head of Volkswagen technical services, would not be in court despite being directed to attend by Judge Devins last Thursday.
Tuesday’s hearing is believed to be the first to seek that the car firm makes public the original expert opinion and technical evidence it used to develop a fix for the affected engines.
However, expert witnesses repeatedly referred to a lack of data in Mr McDonnell’s affidavit to support claims the car giant had found a way of removing the cheat devices that did not impact on either CO2 emissions or fuel economy.
Giving evidence US attorney Michael P Lehman contrasted the limited nature of the affidavit provided by VW Group to the Irish court with the estimated 12 million documents provided in relation to the US case. When asked his view as to why they have taken such a contrasting approach Mr Lehman said that the lack of class action suits in Europe meant the car firm seemed to have opted for “for a war of attrition, hoping to wear down individual claimants”.
Mr O’Dwyer explained that after news of the scandal broke his client, Mrs Higgins had visited three car dealerships with her Seat Leon but when they were made aware it was part of the emissions problem they declined to purchase it.
Economist Robin Noble said again that data was needed to identify the financial impact on the value of the car. He said that Volkswagen’s financial department make provisions for changes in residual value and that such data would prove valuable to the court in making any decision. An application related to the case is due before the court on Wednesday morning.