Northern California Record

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Plaintiffs in VW trial who sought more than $1 million in punitives, awarded $25K each on heels of minimal compensatory damages

Federal Court

By Michael Carroll | Mar 11, 2020

Giuffra
Robert Giuffra Jr.

SAN FRANCISCO – Jurors in Volkswagen’s first “clean diesel” trial in the United States awarded plaintiffs punitive damages that amounted to a fraction of what they originally sought.

In a case involving 10 plaintiffs who had opted out of class action litigation at the Northern District of California, jurors on Monday awarded four plaintiffs $25,000 each in punitive damages, for a total payout of $100,000. The damages award compensated car owners whose diesel vehicles were equipped with devices that gave false emission readings.

“The jury awarded low punitive damages, and those punitive damages will be further reduced to satisfy constitutional limits,” Robert Giuffra Jr., who represented Volkswagen in the litigation, told the Northern California Record in an email. “This was an excellent result for Volkswagen in the first bellwether trial.”

Punitive damages wen to Timothy Riley, owner of a 2010 Volkswagen Jetta; July Robertson, owner of a 2013 Volkswagen Golf; Scott Salzer, owner of a 2010 Jetta; and Luke and Kathryn Sanwick, owner of a 2013 Audi Q7.

Giuffra said he was also pleased by the jury’s decision on compensatory damages that was issued last week. 

“The plaintiffs sought millions of dollars per car in damages,” Giuffra, a partner in Sullivan & Cromwell’s Litigation Group, said. “The jury awarded no compensatory damages to five of the 10 plaintiffs and less than $6,000 to the other five plaintiffs.”

Bryan Altman of The Altman Group in Los Angeles, who represented plaintiffs in the case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Volkswagen, meanwhile, has signaled that it would appeal to have the jury award reduced, though the company was pleased that jurors’ rejection of the car owners’ demands.

The plaintiffs filed a motion for a mistrial on Feb. 28, based on what they viewed as biased comments by Judge Charles Breyer. That motion was denied.

The case against Volkswagen was based on the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, which allows consumers to bring class-action lawsuits to recover damages from unfair business practices.

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U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California