S&C Leads Volkswagen to Victory in First Bellwether Trial Over Diesel Emissions

March 17, 2020

Volkswagen defeated massive damage claims sought by ten plaintiffs who opted out of the landmark class action settlements resolving consumer claims over Volkswagen's sale and lease of diesel cars that exceeded emissions standards. In the first bellwether trial, which was held before Judge Charles Breyer in federal court in San Francisco, S&C convinced a jury that plaintiffs had not suffered any meaningful economic harm, and plaintiffs ultimately were awarded less in damages than if they had accepted the class action settlements.

The trial unfolded over 11 days in three phases: a bench trial to determine whether Volkswagen's class action settlement offers to plaintiffs constituted appropriate offers of correction under the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, and a two-phase jury trial to determine any economic and punitive damages. In a verdict delivered March 4, five of the ten plaintiffs received nothing, while the remaining five plaintiffs were awarded a combined $5,747 in compensatory damages. In the punitive damage phase, the plaintiffs sought hundreds of millions in damages. But, in a verdict delivered March 9, the jury awarded them only $100,000—an amount that Judge Breyer later lowered to just $23,000 for all plaintiffs combined. He agreed with S&C's argument that the original punitive awards had crossed "the line of constitutional impropriety.” The judge also ruled that Volkswagen had met its offer of correction defense, meaning that plaintiffs cannot recover any of their legal fees from Volkswagen.

The result sends a strong message to the other remaining plaintiffs who opted out of Volkswagen's class action settlements about their ability to secure windfall damages.

The trial team was led by Robert Giuffra Jr., Sharon Nelles and William Monahan.