The Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit against Volkswagen Group (VW) on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in federal court Monday for violating U.S. emission standards.
The company admitted breaking the law in September, saying that it had installed “defeat device” software in 600,000 of its diesel engine vehicles domestically, and in 11 million worldwide.
The extra software essentially circumvented the engine’s emission control system when it detected the vehicle was on the road, but temporarily turned it on when the vehicle was being tested for emissions compliance.
Although VW has announced it will be recalling millions of vehicles across the globe, an administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance said talks with the company to do so, “have not produced an acceptable way forward. These discussions will continue in parallel with the federal court action.”
In total, the German auto-maker could face up to $90 billion in fines ($37,500 per vehicle), a larger penalty than U.S. regulators originally estimated.
A senior Department of Justice official commented that, “We’re alleging that they knew what they were doing, they intentionally violated the law and that the consequences were significant to health.”
New emission standards adopted by the EPA would have required VW to redesign its base engine package, a costly measure that the company did not want to incur.
VW plans to negotiate with the Department of Justice for lesser fines by pointing out that $90 billion would “lead to massive layoffs [at the company]”, according to Daniel Riesel, an environmental defense attorney.
As the trial venue shifts from the Eastern District of Michigan to northern California, where class-action lawsuits against VW are currently underway, Justice will also consider bringing criminal charges against the auto-maker’s executives for ordering the development of illegal emission control devices.