Partial success for Mercedes customers: The Stuttgart Higher Regional Court (OLG) found that certain of the car manufacturer’s diesel vehicles had inadmissible defeat devices installed. This emerges from a model declaratory judgment that the presiding judge Thilo Rebmann announced on Thursday in Stuttgart. The Federal Association of Consumer Organizations (vzbv) has thus partially prevailed with a lawsuit that it had filed against Mercedes-Benz in the wake of the diesel scandal.

The consumer advocates called on Mercedes to take responsibility for the defeat devices. “The court has confirmed the view of the vzbv,” said the team leader responsible for class actions, Ronny Jahn. Important steps have now been taken for claims for damages.

Mercedes announces revision

After the verdict, the Stuttgart car manufacturer announced that it would appeal to the Federal Court of Justice. “We take a different legal opinion than the court,” said a spokesman. The interpretation of the complex regulations was at least justifiable at the time and was not made with the intention of acting unlawfully. The claims are still considered unfounded.

Mercedes has had to deal with emissions allegations for years. The Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) issued recall notices against several hundred thousand of the manufacturer’s vehicles in 2018 and 2019. According to the KBA’s opinion, illegal shutdown devices were installed in these cars, which restricted the cleaning of exhaust gases. Mercedes denies the allegations and is taking legal action against the decisions.

It’s about these models

In the model lawsuit, the consumer advocates focused on various off-road vehicle models with a specific engine type and the Euro 5 and 6 emissions standards. They were built between 2012 and 2016 and were affected by the KBA notices.

On the one hand, the chamber classified a function that influences the Adblue injection in Euro 6 vehicles as an impermissible shutdown device. This ensured that the emissions control system was no longer equally effective on longer journeys. On the other hand, the court viewed the so-called coolant target temperature control (KSR) of the Euro 5 cars as inadmissible. With this technology, the delayed heating of the engine oil leads to lower emissions of pollutants. The accusation here was that the technology works almost exclusively on the test bench.

OLG: No evidence of an order from the board

However, the court rejected the consumer advocates’ accusation that members of the board of directors of what was then Daimler AG had ordered or approved the use of the defeat devices. It was a “lecture in the dark”. According to the judges, the association did not provide any actual evidence for the allegations.

In the case of the Euro 6 vehicles, however, the Senate found that Mercedes employees “at least accepted that it was (…) an impermissible defeat device.” The chamber did not see any intentional action in the vehicles with the Euro 5 emissions standard.

Depending on the model, consumers could now be entitled to either a complete reversal of the purchase contract or a type of “small compensation”. In the latter case, you could receive a flat-rate compensation for your car in the amount of the loss in value caused by the defeat devices installed. Exactly how many car owners could benefit from the ruling was initially unclear.

According to vzbv, more than 2,800 people joined the model lawsuit. However, you will need patience: you will only be able to assert claims once the ruling in Karlsruhe is valid and becomes legally binding. They then have to do that themselves.

The consumer advocates filed the model declaratory action almost two and a half years ago. The procedure began in July 2022, but had been postponed several times. In spring 2023, the European Court of Justice challenged the previous BGH case law in the diesel scandal and lowered the hurdles for claims for damages. The BGH then took a step towards consumers in Germany. Since then, they have had reasonable hopes of receiving compensation if illegal defeat devices are installed.

The investor process continues in the summer

Mercedes-Benz has had to go to court again and again since the KBA decisions became known. In 2019, the group was fined 870 million euros because of the diesel complications. There were also multi-million dollar settlements abroad and several criminal orders against Mercedes employees.

According to court information, there are currently around 13,000 diesel lawsuits filed by consumers against the car manufacturer in Stuttgart. There is also a second test case underway that was sought by investors. They accuse Mercedes of not informing them about the scandal in a timely manner – and are demanding hundreds of millions of euros in damages. The process is scheduled to continue in the summer.