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States' Lawsuits Say VW Execs Ran A Cover-Up Of Diesel Emissions Cheating

Volkswagen used six different "defeat devices" to purposefully skirt U.S. emissions rules, new lawsuits say. Here, VW cars are seen in a delivery tower in Wolfsburg, Germany, earlier this year.

Citing "a culture of deeply-rooted corporate arrogance," New York, Massachusetts and Maryland have filed civil lawsuits against Volkswagen, accusing the automaker of violating those states' environmental laws when it sold cars under the "clean diesel" label that were actually rigged to trick emissions tests.

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced the lawsuits Tuesday, along with Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. The lawsuits reflect more than 50,000 diesel vehicles: more than 25,000 in New York, 15,000 in Massachusetts and 12,935 in Maryland.

"Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche defrauded thousands of Massachusetts consumers, polluted our air, and damaged our environment and then, to make matters worse, plotted a massive cover-up to mislead environmental regulators," Healey said in a statement. "With today's action, we want to make clear to all auto manufacturers that violating laws designed to protect our environment and our public health is unacceptable and will be punished with significant penalties."

The civil lawsuits come three weeks after Volkswagen agreed to pay around $15 billion to settle claims against it that were brought by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, along with California and other states. The terms of that deal calls for VW to pay up to $10 billion to customers, and nearly $5 billion to cover environmental reparations.

The Massachusetts lawsuit seeks a penalty of up to $25,000 per day for each violation of its environmental standards. Other states are seeking similar punishments, with differences that reflect local laws.

Here's some of what the lawsuits allege:

  • That Volkswagen used six different "defeat devices" to purposefully skirt U.S. emissions rules, including three generations of a device used in Volkswagens and other iterations used in Audi and Porsche diesel engines.
  • That from at least 2006, VW "intensively researched" whether it could say the defeat devices were legal — and that "its conclusion was that it could not."
  • That "at least by the spring of 2014, key Volkswagen executives were on notice of the cause of high real-world driving NOx emissions and did nothing to prevent both Audi and Volkswagen from repeatedly deceiving regulators and the American public for another eighteen months."
  • That before the scandal broke, a senior Volkswagen attorney warned VW employees that the company faced likely litigation — prompting "at least eight employees" in the engineering department to delete or remove incriminating data;
  • That Volkswagen's "culture that incentivizes cheating and denies accountability comes from the very top and, even now, remains unchecked" — citing millions of dollars' worth of severance payments to former CEO Martin Winterkorn and former marketing head Christian Klingler.
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