The first, and surely not the last, local government action against Volkswagen (VW) has been filed by Harris County,Texas, in relation to its massive effort to cheat government emissions tests.
The county, which includes the city of Houston, is suing the German car giant for more than $100 million.
County attorney Vince Ryan said “These tampered cars were emitting nitrogen oxides, or NOx, every day well in excess of legal limits. Volkswagen’s deceitful acts have damaged the county’s ability to improve air quality, reach clean air attainment status and protect our citizens.”
The lawsuit alleges by installing software into its diesel cars to avoid emissions standards, VW broke seven county environmental-related health and safety codes, including laws related to “unauthorized air emissions” and “anti-tampering” rules.
Harris County is classified as an an EPA "non-attainment" zone which is a designation reserved for areas that don’t meet federal environmental standards. NOx emissions are known to contribute to ozone formation. The filed suit reads “Harris County has long been plagued with poor air quality due to emissions from various sources, ranging from industrial to vehicular traffic. Harris County is designated as nonattainment for ozone, which even at low levels can cause health impacts, including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. Ozone and particulate matter are associated with increased incidence of illness and premature mortality.”
Ryan says 6,000 tampered diesel VW’s have been sold in Harris County since 2009.
Legal experts say it is not clear how Harris County arrived at its damages amount of $100 million but believe the suit covers 2,434 total days of violations. They say using the county's daily emissions fines that range from $50 to $25,000 a day, the country stands to collect at least $730.2 million.
The county has retained as team of lawyers including heavy hitter Richard Mithoff, whose firm in 1998 won $2.2 billion from tobacco companies in health care costs.
Media reports from Germany say VW has already put aside $7.3 billion to settle lawsuits, though it declined to comment on the Texas case.