Thousands of British motorists have won the first step in a Supreme Court action against Volkswagen for the installation of emission control devices in its diesel vehicles.
It follows a preliminary hearing in December, when the court was asked whether the software installed in the cars was a “defeat device” under EU rules.
In a judgment rendered Monday, Justice Waksman decided that this was the case.
Volkswagen said it was “disappointed” and said it could appeal the decision.
A spokesman for the German automaker said: “To be clear, today ‘s decision does not determine liability or any problem of causation or loss for any of the cited causes of action. These remain to be determined by the court as the case continues. “
The High Court case is the latest in a global storm of iterations against VW.
So far, the group has paid 30 billion euros (£ 26 billion) worldwide.
Around 90,000 motorists in England and Wales have brought action against VW as well as Audi, Seat and Skoda, which also belong to the Volkswagen group.
They are asking for compensation in a case which could be the biggest consumer action in English legal history.
The so-called “dieselgate” scandal erupted in September 2015.
The use of defeat devices meant that Volkswagen cars were certified to comply with EU pollution standards. But, in reality, vehicles emitted up to 40 times the legally permitted amount of nitrogen dioxide.
The German automaker admitted that 11 million vehicles worldwide, including nearly 1.2 million in the United Kingdom, were affected.
Since then, senior bosses including CEO Martin Winterkorn have resigned, while some have been charged with criminal offenses in Germany and the United States.
The High Court’s ruling applies not only to VW cars, but also to those produced by Audi, Seat and Skoda.
Justice Waksman described some of Volkswagen’s arguments that the vehicles did not contain defeat devices as “completely irrelevant”, “desperate” and “highly defective”.
Gareth Pope, who heads the legal team for Slater and Gordon, who represents 70,000 claimants, said, “This overwhelming judgment confirms what our customers have known for a long time, but which VW has refused to accept: namely that VW has installed defeat devices in millions of vehicles in the UK to cheat the emissions test.
He added: “VW’s total failure to convince the court of the merits of its case means that the time has certainly come for it to settle these claims and put this shameful episode behind it.”
A spokesperson for the automaker said, “Volkswagen remains confident in our case that we are not responsible to the plaintiffs as they alleged and that the plaintiffs have suffered no loss. We will continue to defend our position firmly. Nothing in this decision changes the situation today. We look forward to advancing in defense of the rest of the case. “