SE Texas Record

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Texas Supreme Court rejects Volkswagen’s efforts to stop Harris County’s emissions suit

State Court

By David Yates | Nov 25, 2019

Volkswagen(300)

HOUSTON – On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court denied attempts by Volkswagen to dismiss lawsuits filed by Harris County, Fort Bend County, the state of Texas and others arising from the Volkswagen emissions scandal.

In 2015 Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan on behalf of Harris County sued Volkswagen, Audi and their affiliates for violating Texas emissions standards and creating a public hazard for citizens of Harris County who came into contact with the vehicles emitting noxious fumes.

From about 2008 to 2015, VW sold thousands of diesel-fueled cars in Harris County that had an illegal software program that permitted the cars to defeat emissions testing. 

As a result, the VW cars with this illegal software program emitted NOx (nitrous oxides) in amounts that were 10 to 40 times above the permissible levels.

NOx are a family of highly reactive gases that play a major role in the formation of smog which can trigger a number of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. Smog can also worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma.

The company later recalled vehicles which were already in use and replaced - at no charge to consumers – new software, which the company said would improve emissions.

However, in depositions, company officials admitted “the effect of these two different changes to the software would be to enhance the ability of the car to have the higher NOx emissions while it was on the road.”

Volkswagen claimed the state and county could not continue the case because federal – and not state -- law prevailed.

However, in April 2018 state District Judge Tim Sulak of the 353rd District Court in Austin signed an order finding that because the recalled vehicles were already on Texas roads, the county is not preempted by the federal government in enforcing environmental laws.

The VW defendants asked the Texas Supreme Court to order Judge Sulak to reverse his ruling and grant a judgment that would dismiss Harris County’s claims against the companies.

On Nov. 22 the court denied Volkswagen’s motion.

“The Supreme Court’s actions will allow this case to be ultimately tried in a Harris County court. Volkswagen’s actions undermined Harris County’s efforts to keep our air clean and our residents healthy,” said County Attorney Vince Ryan. “They owe restitution to Harris County for their reprehensible actions.”

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