TRAVERSE CITY — Lesley Weaver started getting calls right after news broke that Volkswagen had cheated on diesel emissions tests.
“The people who bought these vehicles really care about the environment,” said the San Francisco attorney. “These vehicles were worse than if they had bought a regular vehicle.”
Volkswagen marketed vehicles powered by its 2-liter diesel engine as exceptionally clean-running. The cars actually emitted more than 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide, a pollutant that can cause respiratory problems. The vehicles for seven years were equipped with software that turned on emission controls only during government tests.
Weaver is the daughter of Northwestern Michigan College Board of Trustees Chair Kennard Weaver. She has practiced law for nearly 20 years and currently works with the firm Block & Leviton LLP. She grew up in Elkhart, Indiana, but spent summers in Traverse City. She is visiting town this week.
The scandal came to the public’s attention in September 2015 when the United States Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice that Volkswagen had violated the Clean Air Act by intentionally programming 2-liter turbocharged direct injection engines to cheat on tests.
Lesley Weaver immediately started getting calls from clients who personally owned the cars. They wanted to sue Volkswagen.
“It’s a very esteemed group of people who filed,” she said. “There were hundreds and thousands of cases filed all across the country.”
Weaver was one of many attorneys who began actions on behalf of clients against Volkswagen.
She was appointed in January to the 22-member plaintiffs’ steering committee to work on a combined case. The court received 150 applications from attorneys who wanted to work on the action.
“I was very, very lucky to be included,” Weaver said.
The $15.3 billion settlement announced this week is being called the largest auto-related class-action settlement in U.S. history. More information is available at www.vwcourtsettlement.com.
Big settlements are not new for Weaver. She worked on a separate case that resulted in a 2015 settlement of $600 million. And her long law career brought her close to other large cases.
“My old firm did litigate Enron,” said Weaver.
The Volkswagen case moved exceptionally quickly, she said, because the company admitted what it had done.
“This really has been a testimony to coordination and cooperation,” Weaver said. “Consumers are going to get their money within a year of this coming to light. It’s really a testament to the laws in this country. We managed to get this deal done ahead of everyone else.”
Weaver just returned from an investigative trip to Germany. She said action is proceeding more slowly there and in other nations that are considering legal action against the automaker.
“It would be nice if every consumer (worldwide) got the buyback,” she said. “But I don’t think that is going to happen.”
The owners of 475,000 cars in the U.S. can opt to sell their vehicle back to Volkswagen or have the company fix their car — but no fix yet exists, and some question if a fix is even possible. U.S. owners also will receive a payment between $5,100 and $10,000, depending on the age of the vehicle. Up to $10 billion of the U.S. settlement amount is earmarked for car owners. Another $2.7 billion will go to environmental mitigation and $2 billion will go toward research on zero-emission vehicles.
Weaver said none of the settlement will go to attorney fees. They will negotiate those separately with Volkswagen, she said.
Her father, Kennard Weaver, began practicing law in 1965 and is a retired senior partner of international law firm Faegre Baker Daniels.