Volkswagen will likely be spending a lot of time in court over the next few years. On Monday, the automaker was presented with a new lawsuit from the Justice Department over allegations that it had illegally rigged half a million cars sold in the United States to cheat on emissions tests. The suit is the first step the Obama administration has taken to hold VW accountable for the scandal, and it could leave the company on the hook for billions of dollars in fines. Federal criminal charges could also be forthcoming.
Meanwhile, VW is also facing a torrent of outrage from some of the folks who bought those cars, which include the diesel-powered versions of Jetta and Golf models made since 2009. A court in Northern California is scheduled to decide this month whether to hear a group of more than 350 class-action lawsuits from VW customers who feel they were misled about the environmental benefits of the cars before buying them.
But now, lawyers for those plaintiffs are nervously eyeing a Republican-backed bill that could make it much harder to mount a class-action case against Volkswagen—or any class action at all, for that matter. The House is expected to vote this week on the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act, sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who chairs the Houser Judiciary Committee. The bill is tiny, just about 100 words long. But it would hand a big advantage to corporations opposing suits from aggrieved customers and employees, legal experts said.
In a statement released after the bill passed out of committee this summer, Joanne Doroshow, director of New York Law School's Center for Justice and Democracy, said the new law would "wipe out one of the most important tools for justice in America."
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