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Dieselgate: ECJ ruling 'makes it easier' to get compensation for Volkswagen emissions scandal

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By Maria Psara
In this April 28, 2016 file photo Volkswagen cars are presented to media inside a delivery tower in Wolfsburg, Germany.
In this April 28, 2016 file photo Volkswagen cars are presented to media inside a delivery tower in Wolfsburg, Germany.   -   Copyright  Markus Schreiber

The EU's top court has ruled that consumers can sue in the country where they bought Volkswagen vehicles fitted with emissions-cheating devices.

The German car giant admitted cheating diesel emission tests in the US after it was claimed some Volkswagen cars were being sold with a "defeat device", or software, which can detect when a test is being carried out and adjust its performance accordingly. 

Dubbed Dieselgate, the scandal meant some of Volkswagen's cars were polluting more than the accepted limit. 

Today, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said anyone wanting to sue the carmaker could do so in the country where the car was bought. 

This is seen as a victory for consumers because it is likely easier to sue in one's own country rather than having to do it in Germany. 

"Today the court clarified that consumers who were damaged by 'Dieselgate' can sue in the national courts of their own country," said Miguel Sousa Ferro, professor at the University of Lisbon's law school and member of Diesel Emissions Justice Foundation (DEJF).

"And the reason this was necessary is because Volkswagen is still doing its best not to compensate and they say: 'Come to sue us in Germany'."

The ECJ case was brought by an Austrian consumer protection association. 

The court, justifying its decision, said the damage being suffered occurs in the member state where the vehicle was bought, not manufactured. 

"The court judgment today made it a little easier for consumers to get compensation for 'Dieselgate', but not just for Volkswagen," added Sousa Ferro. 

He said if other manufacturers are found to be doing the same thing as Volkswagen then the ECJ judgement will have a broader impact. 

Five years after the scandal, Volkswagen has compensated consumers in the United States and Australia, but not in Europe, where there is no common litigation platform.

"We have consumers associations like the Diesel Emissions Justice Foundation trying to fight to get compensation and this judgment made it a little easier to do that," said Sousa Ferro