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 settlement 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 awarded them less in compensatory damages than if they had accepted the class action settlement.

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, determining 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 tens of millions in damages. But, in a verdict delivered March 9, the jury awarded only $25,000 to each plaintiff—an amount that likely will be lowered to satisfy constitutional standards for the award of punitive damages. The result sends a strong message to the other remaining plaintiffs who opted-out of Volkswagen's class action settlement about their ability to secure windfall damages.

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