(Reuters) — Automakers must pay compensation for diesel vehicles fitted with illegal emissions control devices, Germany’s highest federal court ruled on Monday, in a case that could potentially cost Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and others millions of dollars.
Companies can owe owners between 5% and 15% of the purchase price of their vehicles, the court ruled in a case against Volkswagen, its Audi brand and Mercedes-Benz that has implications for similar lawsuits.
The judge overturned earlier court dismissals of such claims and remanded them to appeals courts. It was up to the automakers to prove their so-called defeat devices were functional and not illegal, she said.
Defeat devices are mechanisms or software that can alter vehicle emissions levels, leading to many disputes in court over whether manufacturers use them improperly to mask the true pollution levels in their vehicles.
Automakers argue that the devices, which only turn on at certain temperatures, are needed to protect the engine and are in line with the law.
When asked about the ruling, Volkswagen said its defeat devices were not illegal and as such it was confident the courts would continue to reject any compensation claims.
Mercedes-Benz argued that European authorities considered that such temperature windows were permitted until last July, and therefore their use could not be seen as negligence.