Feinberg Nominated as Settlement Master by VW Owners’ Lawyers

By Margaret Cronin Fisk | December 15, 2015

Consumer lawyers suing Volkswagen AG over economic losses tied to vehicles rigged to cheat emissions tests have nominated Kenneth Feinberg as a special settlement master.

Feinberg handled General Motors Co.’ ignition switch fund, as well as compensation for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and BP Plc’s 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill. More than 500 Volkswagen lawsuits have been consolidated in San Francisco federal court.

The nomination came in response to a court order Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer seeking suggestions a “special settlement master.’’ Breyer, who was named to oversee federal consumer lawsuits against VW, set a Dec. 22 deadline for suggestions.

This request for names doesn’t mean that a settlement is imminent, said Blair Nicholas, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers suggesting Feinberg as a special master.

“This is likely a recognition that an experienced neutral should be able to facilitate a fair and just resolution of the claims whether that is early or at a more advanced stage of the litigation,’’ he said in an e-mail.

Lawyers from Nicholas’s firm also suggested two retired judges for the position, former U.S. Magistrate Edward A. Infante, and former U.S. District Judge Fern M. Smith, both currently working with the JAMS arbitration service in San Francisco. Feinberg and the retired judges are each “highly experienced in resolving similar complex matters,’’ Nicholas said.

“I assume I’ll be one of many names that will be submitted,” Feinberg said in a phone interview. He said speculation on a special master is premature. “All the judge has requested is suggestions of names.”

Jeannine Ginivan, a Volkswagen spokeswoman, didn’t immediately respond to e-mail or phone messages seeking comment on the nomination.

The consumer lawsuits were set off by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Sept. 18 announcement that Volkswagen used deceptive software to make some vehicles with 1.2-, 1.6-, and 2.0-liter diesel engines appear as if they met emissions standards. The cheating software is installed in about 11 million vehicles worldwide, including 482,000 vehicles sold in the U.S.

The lawsuits allege varying claims, including consumer fraud, violations of civil racketeering laws, breach of contract. The consumers are seeking returns of premiums paid for the vehicles, compensation for diminished value and possible return of purchase price, minus depreciation.

The cost of buying back the vehicles exceeds $9.4 billion, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

The case is In Re: Volkswagen “Clean Diesel” Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, MDL 2672, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

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