Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hillsborough County joins wave of suits over Volkswagen emissions tampering

TAMPA — Hillsborough County's Environmental Protection Commission voted Wednesday to join the growing list of governments and individuals that are suing German automaker Volkswagen for skirting emissions rules.

The lawsuit will be filed against Volkswagen Group and Volkswagen America by the end of the week in federal court in Tampa. But the EPC hopes its case soon moves to a San Francisco courtroom where it would join what figures to be one of the largest class-action lawsuits in United States history.

At least five states have already filed suit against Volkswagen and hundreds of other lawsuits are in the works. The U.S. Justice Department is seeking $46 billion in its own lawsuit against VW for violating clean air laws.

Volkswagen has admitted to installing software that allowed its diesel cars to pass emission inspections even though its vehicles emitted 40 times the greenhouse gases allowed under federal law. It's estimated about 580,000 cars sold in the United States since 2009 were affected.

The EPC's claim stems from one of its rules that prohibits anyone from tampering with the emission control system of a vehicle. The rule, which dates to 1987, is rarely invoked and appears distinct in Florida to the Environmental Protection Commission — itself a unique body created by special act of the Legislature to regulate pollution in Hillsborough.

EPC general counsel Rick Tschantz said the rule is "tailor made" for the Volkswagen case.

"We agreed that a case could be brought and a case should be brought here due to the actions of this company being so egregious," Tschantz said, "and how much emissions are being put into the atmosphere right here in Hillsborough County on a daily basis."

There are about 1,200 affected vehicles in Hillsborough County, Tschantz said.

The action is similar to Hillsborough County's lawsuit against BP after the Deep Water Horizon oil spill. Hillsborough won $28.5 million in a settlement, though after lawyers took their share, the county was left with about $22.8 million.

Hillsborough's EPC, which is made up of the seven county commissioners, voted unanimously to pay an outside legal team one-third of any settlement won from Volkswagen. If the suit is unsuccessful, the lawyers won't get anything.

The EPC only recently learned it had grounds to sue from a group of Tampa lawyers at Gardner Brewer Martinez-Monfort and Thomas Young. Alabama-based firm Beasley Allen, which is already involved in the class-action lawsuit, will represent the EPC along with the two local firms.

Meanwhile, eight local residents opted out of the class-action lawsuit and filed their own suit against Volkswagen Wednesday in Hillsborough County Circuit Court. They allege, among other claims, misleading advertising and breach of express warranty.

Volkswagen did not respond to a request for comment.

"The Hillsborough County EPC has done a tremendous job of improving our air and water quality, and this type of activity causes a tremendous setback that should not go unpunished," said Truett Gardner of Gardner Brewer Martinez-Monfort. "Fortunately, the EPC has a clear law that is perfectly on point that penalizes anyone for tampering with a vehicle's emission system, and the law provides a clear penalty. This is exactly what Volkswagen has done."

Contact Steve Contorno at Follow @scontorno.

Hillsborough County joins wave of suits over Volkswagen emissions tampering 03/23/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 8:15pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Search for missing Army helicopter crew suspended in Hawaii


    HONOLULU — Officials have suspended the search for five Army soldiers who were aboard a helicopter that crashed during offshore training in Hawaii last week.

    Water safety officials hand over possible debris from an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crash to military personnel stationed at a command center in a harbor, Wednesday in Haleiwa, Hawaii, a day after. an Army helicopter with five on board crashed several miles off Oahu's North Shore. Officials  suspended the search for five Army soldiers in a helicopter crash during offshore training in Hawaii on Monday. [Associated Press]
  2. Rubio praises Trump for 'excellent' speech on Afghanistan


    Sen. Marco Rubio praised President Donald Trump's "excellent" speech on Afghanistan. Sen. Bill Nelson was less effusive but agreed with the goal.

  3. Gov. Rick Scott blasts report of shifting words on Charlottesville


    Gov. Rick Scott, one of the most scripted politicians in modern Florida history, said Monday that ‘both sides” bore blame for Charlottesville.

  4. Record $417 million awarded in lawsuit linking baby powder to cancer


    LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles jury on Monday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a record $417 million to a hospitalized woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene.

    A bottle of Johnson's baby powder is displayed. On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, a Los Angeles County Superior Court spokeswoman confirmed that a jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million in a case to a woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene. [Associated Press]
  5. Search under way for missing sailors; Navy chief orders inquiry


    SINGAPORE — The U.S. Navy ordered a broad investigation Monday into the performance and readiness of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet after the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in Southeast Asian waters, leaving 10 U.S. sailors missing and others injured.

    Damage is visible as the USS John S. McCain steers toward Singapore’s naval base on Monday.