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New class action lawsuits in Germany to be open to mlns of 'dieselgate' victims

Xinhua | Updated: 2018-05-09 22:40
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BERLIN - German justice minister Katarina Barley sought Wednesday to assure German victims of the diesel emissions scandal that they will benefit from the introduction of a new national system of class action lawsuits announced by the federal government in its coalition agreement.

"It was enshrined in the coalition agreement that we will have this regulation in place by Nov 1," Barley told public broadcaster ZDF.

A first legislative proposal was passed by Chancellor Angela Merkel's fourth cabinet on Wednesday and is now subject to further parliamentary hearings. Because of statutory limitation periods, many victims of the emissions-cheating practices by German car makers will be unable to bring class action lawsuits against the likes of Volkswagen unless a decision is reached shortly.

Speaking to the press after the cabinet meeting, Barley estimated "around two million diesel vehicle owners" could benefit from the regulatory changes. The justice minister said the government had been publicizing the subject aggressively to "signal" to consumers that they only had a relatively small window of time to pursue their claims against the automotive industry.

Barley rejected suggestions that a planned provision to restrict the filing of class action law suits to a small number of recognized consumer interest groups would create a significant obstacle for plaintiffs to secure justice in cases like the diesel emissions scandal. The coalition agreement reserves this right to "qualified institutions" like consumer protection groups which clarify fundamental legal questions in so-called "template lawsuits" before consumers pursued their related individual claims in a separate process.

Barley argued that centralized filing "template lawsuits" would speed up the legal procedures at reduced costs for victims. The provision would also prevent the creation of "American conditions" in Germany where companies are threatened by huge financial compensation claims levelled at them by a "lawsuit industry."

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