EU Citizens Lose Damages Suit Over Vehicle Emissions

(CN) – The European General Court threw out a claim for damages Friday by nearly 1,500 people who say the EU’s relaxed attitude on vehicle emissions made them sick.

Most of the 1,429 challengers, as explained in the ruling, live in France.

In 2016, shortly after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency blew the lid off Volkswagen’s emissions scandal, the European Commission rolled out a new test to prevent future instances of automakers manipulating their performance on emissions tests through so-called “defeat devices.”

The devices, which are actually a bit of computer code, were installed in the control module of certain diesel engines. If they “sensed” that the vehicle was being tested in a lab setting, all emissions controls would engage, limiting the amount of nitrogen oxide gases that the vehicle emits.

In real-world driving conditions, however, the emissions controls stayed off, allowing better acceleration and gas mileage, but releasing up to 40 times the allowed gas limits.

The European Commission thus began requiring car manufacturers to submit their light passenger and commercial vehicles to RDE tests, short for real driving emissions.

But the suit by the 1,429 EU citizens claimed that the commission’s regulation caused their health to deteriorate, as well as shaking their confidence in the ability of public institutions to combat environmental degradation.

They sought symbolic compensation of 1 euro for their health claims, but 1,000 euros for the existential threat.

Finding that the citizens offered little proof for their claims, however, the General Court dismissed the entire action Friday.

A copy of the ruling is not yet available on the Luxembourg-based court’s website, but a press release notes says “only a very unspecific and general assessment of the additional pollutant emissions caused by the provisions at issue could be attempted.”

And even then, after a certain time, the results would be “very inconclusive.”

“In particular, it would be impossible to predict, had the commission maintained more stringent limits, to what extent potential buyers would have immediately turned to the types of vehicle, possibly fewer in number, which had successfully undergone the tests conducted by complying with those limits or whether they would have preferred to keep their old vehicles for longer,” the press release continues.

The claims would also require an assessment of the personal situation of each applicant, the court found, noting that “they number 1,429 and live in different regions or in different circumstances.”

With regard to the more existential damage, the court found that mere awareness of the threat of “air pollution is insufficient to establish that each of them actually fears for their health and that of their family to the point that such fear affects their living conditions to such an extent that a finding of damage can be made.”

“More generally, the court notes that a feeling that any person may have does not constitute non-material damage that may be the subject of compensation,” the press release concludes.

Apart from the action of the EU citizens, the General Court is also set to hold a hearing  on May 17 to consider annulment actions that the cities of Paris, Brussels and Madrid brought against the 2016 commission regulation.

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