The Texas Supreme Court ruled Nov. 22 that a lawsuit filed by Harris County against Volkswagen, Audi and their affiliates can move forward, according to a press release from Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan’s office. The lawsuit was filed following the automakers’ use of software that allowed some models to violate emissions standards, including those in Harris County, from 2008 to 2015.
“The Supreme Court’s actions will allow this case to be ultimately tried in a Harris County court. Volkswagen’s actions undermined Harris County’s efforts to keep our air clean and our residents healthy,” Ryan said in the release.
Use of the software allowed some of the automaker’s diesel vehicles to emit about 40 times more nitrous oxides than emissions standards allowed at the time, according to the press release. Nitrous oxides are known to contribute to smog and general air pollution. Smog is known to trigger or worsen health problems such as reduced lung function, asthma, and general respiratory inflammation according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This prompted Ryan to file the lawsuit in 2015 on behalf of Harris County.
Volkswagen claimed the state and county could not continue the case because the case fell under federal authority. However, in April 2018 state District Judge Tim Sulak of the 353rd District Court in Austin found that because the recalled vehicles were already on Texas roads, the county is not preempted by the federal government, the release said. Volkswagen subsequently asked the Texas Supreme Court to order Judge Sulak to reverse his ruling and grant a judgment that would dismiss Harris County’s claims against the companies.
The Harris County Attorney’s Office will be moving forward with their case on behalf of county residents. The lawsuit claims that Harris County is not receiving sufficient compensation from the $209 million settlement Volkswagen is slated to give Texas counties after reaching a $2.9 billion settlement in federal courts. Harris County had 24% of the vehicles in Texas with the illegal software but is only slated to receive 13% of the settlement funding.
“They owe restitution to Harris County for their reprehensible actions,” Ryan said.