Three states, led by New York, have filed slawuits against Volkswagen, alleging the company engaged in a lengthy campaign to design and install defeat devices in various models of cars manufactured by the company. The suit maintains that the campaign began as early as 2004—and, for the first time, named VW CEO Matthias Müller as not only having knowledge of the program but being party to the discussions that eventually led to the development and implementation of the defeat device.
The lawsuit claims that there was a “willful and systematic scheme of cheating” at VW, according to the New York Times. It also “identified six different defeat devices created and implemented over the years.”
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said, “The idea that this level of fraud could take place and involve so many people at such high levels of a major international corporation is appalling.”
This lawsuit is the first public filing to claim that top managers at VW were either specifically involved in the development and implementation of the defeat devices, or at the very least were aware of the issues that led to their creation. Given the recent VW settlement with the U.S. government, some states and VW car owners may have thought it was over. Perhaps VW thought it had seen the end of its emissions-testing scandal. However the states of New York, Maryland, and Massachusetts beg to differ and have opened up a new front in VW’s legal woes.
Does having information about a complex problem and a solution, which may or may not violate the law before that solution is implemented, constitute a crime? And what does this mean for corporate officers facing similar situations? This latest round of lawsuits against VW may give us some clarity.