ECJ ruling of 21.03.2023: Fiat faces wave of damages in emissions scandal

Anyone who has purchased a motor home that contains an impermissible defeat device may be entitled to damages. 

The diesel scandal, which has also affected Fiat, has been occupying the automotive industry and consumers for a long time. Various manufacturers of diesel engines have installed so-called defeat devices in their engines. This made the vehicles appear much "cleaner" than they actually were. As a result, vehicles that significantly exceeded the permissible exhaust emission limits were approved by the relevant authorities.

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Preliminary information

In the last 10 years, however, more and more inconsistencies in connection with the diesel engines have come to light. This initially led to headlines and an immense wave of lawsuits against the VW Group. Over the next few years, the diesel scandal spread to most of the major automakers, including Fiat, which had installed defeat devices in their engines in one way or another.

Although the diesel scandal has been on everyone's lips for years now, a judicial review has still not been completed. On March 21, 2023, the ECJ handed down its next long-awaited ruling in connection with the emissions scandal.

On the current ECJ ruling - 21.03.2023

The ECJ ruled in favor of consumers in its judgment of March 21, 2023:

Articles 18(1), 26(1) and 46 of Directive 2007/46 in conjunction with Article 5(2) of Regulation No 715/2007 also aim to protect the interests of individual purchasers of motor vehicles.

Articles 18 (1), 26 (1) and 46 of the Directive thus protect the interests of individuals. In particular, they protect the interest of the purchaser not to purchase a vehicle that contains an illegal defeat device according to Article 5 (2) of Regulation (EC) No. 715/2007. Thus, the Member States are, so to speak, obliged to ensure that the purchaser of such a vehicle has a claim for damages against the manufacturer insofar as the vehicle is equipped with an impermissible defeat device.

With this ruling, the ECJ follows the opinion of Advocate General Athanasios Rantos and ultimately came to the result hoped for by consumers.

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Evaluation of the ECJ ruling

In essence, the ECJ ruled in its judgment that the articles of the directive are protective standards. In other words, they are standards that protect not only a general interest, but also individual interests. This plays a decisive role in connection with the existence of claims for damages and the probability of successful enforcement of a claim for damages in court. It will probably no longer be necessary to prove that Fiat deliberately installed an illegal defeat device in the emissions scandal in order to enrich itself. Find out more about the other rulings in the Fiat Ducato emissions scandal.

It should be sufficient to show that an illegal defeat device exists and that the manufacturer should and could have known that an illegal defeat device violates the law and harms consumers.

What did the ECJ ruling deal with?

In the ECJ ruling, which can also be directly applied to the Fiat Ducato emissions scandal, the ECJ deals with the submission of the Ravensburg Regional Court, in proceedings against Mercedes, which revolves around the admissibility of the thermal window used by Mercedes.

The Ravensburg Regional Court primarily sought an answer from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as to whether Directive 2007/46/EC, in conjunction with Regulation No. 715/2007, confers on an individual purchaser of a vehicle that does not comply with the NOx emission limits set out in that Regulation a right to claim damages against the vehicle manufacturer on the basis of tortious claims.

To this the BGH answered as already described in the sense of the consumers that such a tortious claim for compensation of the damage exists.

Transferability to actions against Fiat

The fact that the judgment of the ECJ deals with an inadmissible defeat device on the part of Mercedes is irrelevant. The ECJ's ruling is a ruling that basically answers the question of how to interpret Directive 2007/46/EC and Regulation (EC) No. 715/2007. These are also decisive in the proceedings against Fiat in the emissions scandal, as the inadmissibility of the defeat devices is based on them. Thus, the ruling is also decisive for the ongoing proceedings in the Fiat emissions scandal.

This is already evident from the fact that the courts have for some time suspended the proceedings before them pending the ECJ's decision.


Legal implications

The fact that the standards in question were classified as protective laws has a decisive consequence. This has meant that a claim for damages against Fiat can now arise not only from Section 826 of the German Civil Code (immoral intentional damage), but also from Section 823 II of the German Civil Code in conjunction with the protective standard.

In the case of a claim for damages under section 823 (2) of the German Civil Code (BGB), the plaintiff does not have to prove immoral conduct, unlike under section 826 of the BGB, which has so far been used by the higher courts as a basis for claims against the manufacturers involved in the diesel scandal. Instead, simple negligence is sufficient, which significantly eases the plaintiff's obligation to present evidence in court and thus clearly increases the chances of success of a claim against Fiat.

Actual effects

This ruling by the ECJ was eagerly awaited, even the BGH decided to suspend a case pending there in connection with the diesel scandal and wait for the ECJ's ruling.

Now the expected verdict has finally been announced and its dimensions will become clear in the near future.

It is clear that this ruling significantly strengthens the legal position of consumers in the Fiat Ducato emissions scandal and the diesel scandal in general. A series of positive rulings for consumers can be expected from the German courts. As a direct consequence, such a development towards significantly higher chances of success could lead to a new wave of lawsuits against Fiat.

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