Lawsuit claiming GM cheated diesel tests moves forward

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

A U.S. District judge in Michigan has dismissed part of a lawsuit alleging General Motors Co. and Chevrolet falsely and deceptively marketed its Cruze Diesel as a “clean vehicle.”

The lawsuit, filed in June 2016, claims that GM and Chevy used software to cheat emissions regulations, which allowed the vehicles to pollute at higher than standard levels. The claims were brought by nine Chevy Cruze owners who are seeking seeking buybacks; reimbursement for the $2,000 or more premium customers paid over the gasoline Cruze model; and compensation based on any “fix” and extended warranties that aren’t used. The lawsuit, filed by the GM spokesman James Cain law firm in Seattle on behalf of those owners, also seeks punitive damages.

U.S. District Judge Thomas L. Ludington wrote in an order filed Tuesday in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan that breach of contract allegations in the complaint would be dismissed, per GM’s request, because the defendants did not adequately present facts to support that claim.

Claims of deceptive advertising and fraudulent concealment were upheld. The case now moves to the discovery phase of pretrial, during which attorneys will begin to gather evidence before the case is settled or goes to trial.

“We’re pleased with the ruling because the court found that many of the legal theories put forward by the plaintiffs don’t hold water,” GM spokesman James Cain told The Detroit News. “We’re confident their remaining claims will eventually fail as they are baseless.”

GM said in a statement the company “believes the Chevrolet Cruze turbodiesel complies with all U.S. EPA and CARB emissions regulations.”

The judge wrote that the plaintiffs can support allegations that GM’s false advertising created an artificially high market price for what the automaker billed as a cleaner diesel vehicle.

Luding also wrote that they have grounds to allege GM actively concealed the existence of a device used to cheat emissions tests, which allegedly “triggered the Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel functions when the vehicle was being tested, but deactivated the system when the vehicle was actually in use.”

Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman, said in a statement that the firm looks forward to recover alleged damages for Cruze customers.

“Diesel emissions fraud didn’t stop with Volkswagen or Mercedes – GM has proven that it, too, placed greed and profits ahead of thousands of owners who paid premium prices for what they thought were clean diesel cars,” Berman said.

Diesel-emissions cheating was brought into the global spotlight after Volkswagen AG admitted in 2015 that it had cheated on U.S. pollution tests.

The law firm that filed the Cruze complaint is a member of a court-appointed committee in a case against Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche emissions cheating, and is lead counsel in a similar case filed against Mercedes-Benz for allegedly using a “defeat device” software to cheat on emissions tests.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau