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As Volkswagen Works to Retain Customers’ Trust, Owners Find Ambiguities in ‘Goodwill Package’

Dec 31, 2015

The embattled European car conglomerate Volkswagen has had a tough year.

First, the car maker came under significant global scrutiny after it admitted to altering its vehicles in order to pass American emission standards tests—hiding the fact that its diesel models emit nitrogen oxides in extremely high levels. Then, the company admitted that it had installed software (also known as “defeat devices”) in 11 million models worldwide that worked to trigger faux emission rates during testing sessions, only to return to normal levels once the emissions assessment concluded—rendering all emissions testing thus far essentially useless.

One would think, after all the negative press over the past 12 months, Volkswagen would engage in the most valiant of efforts to regain the trust of its loyal diesel constituents. And it has certainly made an attempt, known as the “VW Goodwill Package.” However, many are beginning to read (and question) the fine print—prompting inquiries over how good-natured the company actually is, notwithstanding its ongoing international legal woes.

The Goodwill Package applies to all 2-liter diesel models, and purports to offer a $500 prepaid Visa card, a separate $500 card that can only be used at Volkswagen dealerships and three years of roadside assistance. Moreover, the company vehemently insists that accepting the Goodwill Package will not impact an owner’s right to sue the company, and includes the following language: “affected customers eligible for the Goodwill Package are not required to waive their rights or release their claims against Volkswagen Group of America in order to receive the Package.”

However, a separate section reads as follows: VOLKSWAGEN PREPAID VISA ® LOYALTY CARD CARDHOLDER AGREEMENT IMPORTANT—PLEASE READ CAREFULLY. THIS AGREEMENT CONTAINS AN ARBITRATION PROVISION REQUIRING ALL CLAIMS TO BE RESOLVED BY WAY OF BINDING ARBITRATION. Again, prompting many to question whether they are further waiving any rights by accepting this Goodwill Package.

Officials for Volkswagen insist that the binding arbitration agreement applies to any disputes involving the gift cards, which were created by third parties not affiliated with VW. However, the prepaid card agreement makes several more mentions of the cardholder’s waiver of the right to a trial by jury, and that any disputes or conflicts must be resolved by arbitration in the convenient location of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

In sum, time will tell whether VW plans to invoke these clauses against diesel owners seeking compensation for faulty emissions reports and the installation of “defeat devices.” Until then, always read the fine print.

If you are a VW diesel owner with questions about your rights, contact a product liability attorney.

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