Business Monday: Aspen law firms take on Volkswagen, Audi over emissions scandal

In this Thursday, March 8, 2018 photo Volkswagen cars are pictured during the production with a robot at the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg, Germany. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Fallout from the Volkswagen emissions scandal has veered into Aspen, where two associated law firms have taken legal action against the Germany-based parent company of Audi.

Attorneys Title Insurance Agency of Aspen LLC and Wright Law Aspen, which have adjacent office suites at 715 W. Main St., last week transferred their lawsuits from Garfield County District Court to the U.S. District Court in Denver.

The three suits — two from Attorneys Title, one from Wright Law — make a series of allegations against Volkswagen more than 21/2 years after the Environmental Protection Agency, in September 2015, said the automaker violated the Clean Air Act.

Volkswagen committed the violations with its so-called defeat devices, software that manipulated emissions tests by falsely issuing positive results that met federal emissions standards.

“By installing these ‘defeat devices’ and failing to disclose the true nature of emissions from the clean diesel cars, defendant willingly, knowingly and intentionally violated Colorado state law, lied to and defrauded consumers,” says one of the suits from Attorneys Title.

The complaints from Attorneys Title and Wright Law, which are both run by Aspen lawyer Gary Wright, allege that in August 2013, the two firms entered a three-year lease for a 2014 Audi Q5 A3, which was billed as a clean-diesel vehicle, from Audi Glenwood Springs.

That Audi model is one of multiple Volkswagen products with turbocharged direct injection (TDI) diesel engines snared by what has been called “emissionsgate” and “dieselgate.”

Neither Wright nor attorneys from the Glenwood Springs-based firm Karp Neu Hanlon PC returned messages seeking comment last week.

The complaints, however, say the plaintiffs “had no way of knowing about Audi of America’s intentional and sophisticated deception with respect to the TDI fraud ‘defeat device’ until around the fall of 2016, when it became aware of the class action litigation” in federal court in the Northern District of California.

On Friday, attorneys for Volkswagen filed a motion to stay the proceedings until a judicial panel’s decision is made whether to fold the Aspen suits into similar proceedings in federal court in the Northern District of California, where a number of class actions by car purchasers against Volkswagen have been consolidated.

“More than 2,400 actions have been filed against (Volkswagen Group of America Inc.) in courts across the United States based on those allegations, including 64 lawsuits filed in Colorado courts,” wrote attorneys from the Denver firm Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell LLP, on behalf of Volkswagen.

The motion also notes that both Attorneys Title and Wright Law lagged behind the class action and there is no sense of urgency to accelerate the litigation.

“The EPA’s notice of violation, which set off the Volkswagen controversy and constitutes the primary basis for plaintiff’s action, was issued more than two years before plaintiff filed its complaint,” the motion says. “Plaintiff even admits that it became aware of the resulting litigation — and the MDL — by ‘the fall of 2016,’ over a year before it eventually commenced this action. Plaintiff’s delay clearly indicates that it would not be prejudiced by the short stay.”

The suits were originally filed in late March and early April in Garfield County District Court, before being transferred to the federal venue in Denver.