Serving Maryland and Washington D.C. 301-870-1200

Volkswagen Emissions Legal Investigation

In mid-September, Volkswagen publicly admitted that it had cheated during the emissions tests on as many as eleven million of its “clean diesel” engines. It has since come to light that the vehicles were equipped with computer software that could detect when an emissions test was taking place based on engine operation, air pressure, monitoring speed, and the position of the steering wheel. The software then triggered a device that reduced emissions to a legal level for the duration of the test. If you or someone you know purchased a Volkswagen within the last six years, you may be eligible to receive compensation through a class action lawsuit.

Legal Implications

The eleven million diesel cars sold by Volkswagen and equipped with the software in question produced 40 times the legal level of nitrogen oxide permitted by the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”). Nitrogen oxide is a pollutant whose emission can exacerbate respiratory issues like asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis.

Under the Clean Air Act, Volkswagen may be fined up to $37,500 for each of the estimated 482,000 vehicles that were sold in the United States. This could mean a possible total maximum fine of $18 billion for the company. Furthermore, these estimates only account for the Volkswagen-manufactured Audi A3, Jetta, Beetle, Golf, and Passat. The number of affected vehicles produced by Volkswagen could be even higher, which would further increase potential fines faced by the corporation.

Investigations and Class Action Lawsuits in Maryland

Soon after the EPA released its findings, Volkswagen’s CEO Martin Winterkorn offered his official resignation. A replacement has yet to be chosen. Volkswagen’s American head of operations has also been asked for an explanation and has been called to testify before lawmakers within the week to help set the record straight on how much management actually knew about the fraud.

German authorities have also responded to the scandal by setting up a meeting to discuss potential “re-fit” plans on October 7th. The plan could include anything from a general recall to the installation of an entirely new computer program within each vehicle. Depending on the re-fit plan chosen by Volkswagen management, alterations could result in the diminishment of the car’s fuel economy and even performance. This, in turn, would undoubtedly lead to another wave of lawsuits against the corporation.

Maryland’s Attorney General has opened a multi-state investigation into the company, and at least 29 other states have followed suit. All are issuing subpoenas for company records.

In the first of the lawsuits, filed in California, the plaintiff alleges that Volkswagen defrauded consumers with false representations concerning emissions and mileage. Since that time, at least 25 class action lawsuits have been filed in all 50 states and more are sure to follow.

Charles County, MD Personal Injury Lawyers that Fight for You

If you believe that you fall within the class of eligible plaintiffs who purchased cars from Volkswagen under false pretenses, an attorney can help you formulate your claim and protect your rights. Please contact the Law Office of Robert R. Castro to schedule a free consultation.

Public Officials and Liability for Gross Negligence

In a recent case in the Maryland Court of Appeals, a correctional officer was held civilly liable for his negligence in failing to prevent the death of an inmate after he stood by while one inmate murdered the other. Generally, public officials cannot be held liable for negligence because of the doctrine of sovereign immunity, but if a public official is grossly negligent, the doctrine will not apply and the official can be held liable.

Cooper v. Rodriguez

In 2005, two inmates, Kevin G. Johns, Jr. and Phillip E. Parker, Jr., were being transported between correctional facilities when Johns reached over the seat in front of him and began choking Parker with his arm. After Parker began to struggle, Johns cut his neck with a razor blade. Parker yelled loudly and was further choked by Johns, and eventually stuffed between two seats.

The entire encounter took place roughly seven feet from where correctional officer, Larry Cooper was seated on an elevated platform, although he denied having witnessed the event. Upon arrival at the Baltimore facility, security guards discovered Parker’s body and transported him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The court found that Cooper’s failure to follow basic procedure, his proximity to the inmates at the time of the murder, and his reckless disregard for the safety of his charges constituted gross negligence and caused Parker’s death. Furthermore, the court clarified that under the Maryland Tort Claims Act, Maryland state employees who would normally be granted immunity cannot claim such benefits if they were grossly negligent.

Sovereign Immunity

The doctrine of sovereign immunity means that state personnel is immune from liability for a tortious act or omission that falls within the scope of his or her public duties. Unless a plaintiff can show that the official was grossly negligent, the plaintiff will be barred from recovery.

Public Officials

A public official or state personnel means:

●A state employee or official who is paid in whole or in part by the Central Payroll Bureau in the Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury;

  • A sheriff or deputy sheriff of a county or Baltimore City;
  • An employee of a county who is assigned to a local department of social services, or
  • Montgomery County as unit of state government.

This list is not exhaustive and also includes many other categories of state employees.

Gross Negligence

In Maryland, gross negligence is defined as the intentional failure to perform a duty in reckless disregard of the consequences to the life or property of another.

Sovereign immunity does not apply in cases of gross negligence because the doctrine is meant to protect state employees who are acting within the scope of their employment. By acting maliciously or recklessly, government employees forfeit any protection that their position previously afforded them. This means that victims of a public official’s gross negligence have the opportunity to be compensated for their injury.

Charles County, MD Personal Injury Lawyers that Fight for You

If you have been injured because of the gross negligence of a public official, please contact a Maryland personal injury lawyer at the Law Office of Robert R. Castro at (301)870-1200 to schedule an initial consultation.