3 local VW owners file suits over emissions deception

Diesel-powered Volkswagen cars are stored in secured lot near a VW dealership in Salt Lake City.

Owners of cars made by Volkswagen AG have filed three lawsuits with Charleston courts over the emissions cheating scandal engulfing the German automaker.

The complaints are seeking unspecified financial damages, including legal fees.

Volkswagen AG has admitted using a piece of engine software known as a “defeat device” to cheat on diesel car emissions tests in the U.S., where authorities say 482,000 automobiles from the 2009-15 model years are affected. The company says that up to 11 million vehicles worldwide were fitted with the engine in question.

One of the owners, Donald P. Edwards Jr., is represented by the Mount Pleasant-based personal injury law firm Motley Rice. He alleges in a complaint filed in federal court in Charleston on Friday that even if VW brings the diesel-powered cars into compliance with U.S. emission standards, “the vehicles will no longer perform as they did when purchased and as advertised.”

“This will necessarily result in a diminution of every affected vehicle, and it will cause owners ... to pay more for fuel while using their affected vehicles,” according to the lawsuit.

The complaint says Edwards and other buyers paid Volkswagen AG a premium for its “CleanDiesel” line of cars. The amount ranged from $2,805 for a basic Audi A3 to $6,315 for a top-line VW Jetta.

Edwards bought a 2010 Jetta last year from an unidentified authorized Volkswagen dealer in the Charleston area, according to the lawsuit.

At least two other local VW buyers lodged similar complaints with Charleston County Court of Common Pleas late last week.

The emissions cheating allegations surfaced publicly about two weeks ago.

About three dozen lawsuits had been filed around the country as of Friday, according to news reports.

Motley Rice said it is seeking class-action status on behalf of affected VW owners in eight states for alleged consumer fraud and breach of contract. In addition to South Carolina, the firm and its co-counsel have filed complaints in Florida, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Virginia and West Virginia.

“Owners of VW diesel cars were duped and now they are stuck in vehicles that do not perform as promised or intended. Rather than being ‘clean diesel,’ they are spewing out pollution at alarming rates and Volkswagen has no fix,” Motley Rice attorney Jodi Westbrook Flowers said in a written statement Tuesday.

Badge Humphries of Lewis Babcock & Griffin is taking a slightly different approach by filing in state court rather than federal court. He is representing Volkswagen owners in one of the two other Charleston complaints.

Humphries said it’s easier for residents to qualify to join a class-action-type lawsuit in state court under a law that’s “unique” to South Carolina. Also, he said, plaintiffs are entitled to collect more in financial damages under that same statute.

Volkswagen will likely seek to consolidate the state court cases with the federal lawsuits, he said.

“There will be a fight over jurisdiction,” Humphries said Tuesday.

No hearings have been scheduled.

Volkswagen did not respond for a request for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.