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Freshfields Sustainability

| 2 minutes read

First Hearings in Climate-Related Lawsuits Against German Car Manufacturers

In autumn 2021, several individuals and representatives of the NGOs Deutsche Umwelthilfe and Greenpeace filed lawsuits at various German courts against car manufacturers (Volkswagen AG, Mercedes-Benz AG, BMW AG) and Wintershall Dea (see our previous blog post). The first oral hearing in one of these claims recently took place, on 20 May 2022, before the Detmold Regional Court.

In this claim an organic farmer, supported by Greenpeace, sued Volkswagen demanding that it takes measures to ensure greater climate protection. The farmer’s demands include (i) that between now and 2029, Volkswagen be limited to marketing vehicles with internal combustion engines to a maximum of 25 per cent of its vehicles and (ii) that from 2030 Volkswagen should not be allowed to sell vehicles with internal combustion engines at all.

At the oral hearing, the court raised various questions about the merits of the claim. In particular, the court expressed concerns as to whether the farmer had sufficiently demonstrated that his property and health rights were specifically affected by the activities of Volkswagen. Moreover, the court expressed doubts as to whether a group-wide liability of Volkswagen AG could be assumed for the activities of all Volkswagen’s group companies. The court also questioned whether Volkswagen could be ordered to cease and desist the production of internal combustion vehicles, despite acting lawfully. The judges suggested it is not the court that can order car manufacturers to take measures to ensure greater climate protection, but only the legislator.  

Both parties can now file written submissions, and a decision by the Detmold Regional Court is scheduled for 9 September 2022.

A few weeks later, another hearing took place on 21 June 2022 before the Regional Court of Stuttgart in the lawsuit filed by three representatives of the German NGO Deutsche Umwelthilfe against Mercedes-Benz AG. The main objective of this claim is not to ban internal combustion engines in principle, but to prohibit their marketing from 31 October 2030 onwards unless their climate neutrality can be proven. Like the Detmold Regional Court, the Stuttgart Regional Court also expressed considerable doubts about the claim and pointed out several legal concerns: Besides the difficulties to prove a future impairment of the claimants’ rights due to climate change including causation the court reckoned that it is not up to civil courts but rather to the legislator to issue guidelines on how long combustion engines should continue to be used. The court further emphasized that it will not be possible even in 2030 to become carbon free.

The court’s decision in this case is scheduled for 13 September 2022 and the parties can file further submissions by the end of August.


climate change, automotive, litigation