Lawyers Share $175M Payday in VW Settlement

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge on Friday awarded $175 million in attorneys’ fees and costs to lawyers that helped secure a $10 billion settlement in the Volkswagen diesel-gate scandal.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer approved the $10 billion package in October 2016 as part of a larger $15 billion deal, which included $4.7 billion in air quality improvement programs to mitigate the impact of cars that violated emissions standards.

The $15 billion deal was the most costly settlement Volkswagen has paid thus far for its use of emissions-cheating software in some 11 million cars worldwide. The German automaker has paid more than $20 billion in U.S. civil settlements and criminal fines, and U.S. prosecutors have charged six of its executives over their roles in the scandal.

As part of the $15 billion deal approved last year, Volkswagen agreed to spend up to $10 billion buying back or modifying nearly 600,000 2-liter diesel engine vehicles tainted by defeat devices. Defeat devices allowed the cars to mask emissions during tests while spewing up to 40 times more nitrogen oxide on the road than allowed under federal law.

Breyer found $167 million in attorneys’ fees and $8 million in costs requested by the plaintiff class lawyers was “reasonable and fair” given the “extraordinary result” achieved for the class.

The judge said the settlement put owners of affected vehicles back into the same position they were in before the scandal was made public in September 2015. Volkswagen offered to buy back cars based on their pre-public scandal value or to repair them with EPA-approved emissions-reducing modifications.

Awarded attorneys’ fees make up 1.7 percent of the $10 billion settlement package. The award will be shared among 21 law firms that made up the plaintiff class steering committee, headed by lead counsel Elizabeth Cabraser of Lief Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein.

The lawyers and their staff worked 98,000 hours litigating the case and negotiating the settlement. They expect to spend an additional 21,00 hours processing claims over the next 26 months, according to Breyer’s March 17 ruling.

The average hourly rate for class attorneys’ work was $529, amounting to a $63.5 million lodestar, or total cost of litigation hours. Breyer found applying a 2.63 multiplier to the lodestar was justified given “the complexities of this case and the extraordinary result achieved for the class.”

Lead attorney Elizabeth Cabraser said in an emailed statement, “The award will be allocated by lead counsel among firms who performed authorized common benefit work, based upon relative value of contributions to the case and time that was reported and complied with guidelines set forth by the Court. These fees will not be deducted from any class member’s recovery amount.”

The other 20 firms that make up the plaintiff class steering committee include: Bailey Glasser; Boies, Schiller & Flexner; Casey Gerry Schenk Fracavilla Blatt & Penfield; Carella, Byrne, Cecchi, Olstein, Brody & Angello; Roxanne Colnin & Associates; Simmons Hanley Conroy; Robbins Geller Rudman Dowd; Weitz & Luxenberg; Hausfeld; Heygood, Orr & Pearson; Grant & Eisenhofer; Beasley Allen Law Firm; Cotchette Pitre & McCarthy; Motley Rice; Finkelstein Thompson; Keller Rohrback; Seeger Weiss; Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings; Baron & Budd; and Bleichmar Fonti & Auld.