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Baltimore firm prepares to file Volkswagen suit

A 2013 Volkswagen Passat with a diesel engine is evaluated last month at the California Air Resources Board emissions test lab in El Monte, Calif. VW admitted that it manipulated emissions results in 482,000 U.S. diesel vehicles to make them appear to run cleaner. (Nick Ut/AP Photo)

A 2013 Volkswagen Passat with a diesel engine is evaluated last month at the California Air Resources Board emissions test lab in El Monte, Calif. VW admitted that it manipulated emissions results in 482,000 U.S. diesel vehicles to make them appear to run cleaner. (Nick Ut/AP Photo)

At least one Baltimore law firm is preparing to file a lawsuit against automaker Volkswagen just two weeks after the company announced its “clean diesel” vehicles contained software that fooled emissions tests.

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Salsbury, Clements, Bekman, Marder & Adkins LLC has been soliciting customers who may have purchased the affected vehicles and investigating possible claims for a little more than a week, according to attorney Ryan S. Perlin. A lawsuit should be filed this week on behalf of consumers in Maryland and the Washington, D.C. region.

Currently, a team at SCBMA is answering phone calls and checking online intake forms to screen for potential litigants, Perlin said. Many people are familiar with the fact that Volkswagen is facing lawsuits, but are unsure if they qualify.

Affected vehicles include Volkswagen’s Beetle, Golf, Jetta and Passat models, all with turbocharged direct injection, or TDI. Also included is the Audi A3 TDI.

“People who buy Volkswagen clean diesels don’t just happen into that,” Perlin said.

Customers did research and chose what they thought was an environmentally-friendly option, only to find out now they’ve actually been driving a car that’s worse for the environment than the average car, he said.

Emily C. Malarkey, Perlin’s colleague, said she’s spoken with customers who replied to inquiries from the firm and they are upset about the deception.

“It’s a very emotional issue for a lot of people,” she said.

The Environmental Protection Agency sent Volkswagen executives a notice of violation Sept. 18, informing them they were being investigated for manufacturing and installing defeat devices in certain diesel light-duty vehicles manufactured between 2009 and 2015.

The device sensed when the car was undergoing an emissions test and switched the system to control emissions but switched back on the road, according to the letter. The vehicles were actually emitting as much as 40 times the pollution permitted by the Clean Air Act.

Dozens of lawsuits have been filed since the revelation, and it’s too early to know what litigation will look like, according to Malarkey.

While some lawsuits have been consumer class actions, it will be up to judges to certify classes, according to Malarkey. The case could be certified nationally but Malarkey said the differences in state laws may make that impractical.

Another possibility is multi-district litigation, which allows for common questions of fact pending in multiple jurisdictions to be consolidated in one district for pretrial proceedings, according to Malarkey.

In Maryland, claims may include fraud, consumer rights violations, and diminished value and performance.

Volkswagen is also being investigated by multiple state attorneys general, including Maryland’s Brian E. Frosh, to determine if the deceit violated consumer protection laws.