Environmental health and safety is a heavily regulated legal area. It is also heavily litigated. Businesses in Ohio and throughout the country need to be always on guard to make sure they stay in compliance and avoid costly lawsuits.
One of the few aspects of environmental law is the preemption of federal law that can prevent state entities from bringing lawsuits on issues covered by their federal counterparts. However, a recent lawsuit between Ohio and Volkswagen suggests that this coverage could change.
Ohio vs. Volkswagen
As reported by Reuters online, the Ohio Supreme Court recently ruled against Volkswagen in a serious environmental lawsuit brought by the state of Ohio.
The lawsuit stems from a 2015 incident in which Volkswagen altered the results of emissions tests by using hidden technology that provided false diagnostic information during testing. Part of this scheme involved Volkswagen installing updated software as part of a voluntary recall in the United States.
Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had already won a lawsuit costing the company more than two billion dollars, the state of Ohio also sued. The issue in the appellate process has been whether the EPA lawsuit preempts the state’s right to sue on this issue. Ohio argued that, no, the EPA does not preempt its right to sue because the EPA only covers new vehicles, while the state is suing regarding the post-sale tampering with their emissions technology.
The Ohio Supreme Court agreed with the state on this issue. Although Volkswagen plans to appeal to the United States Supreme Court, the company looks to be in serious legal trouble in Ohio at this point.
Why this case is important
The primary argument is whether or not federal environmental law preempts state entities from bringing this kind of claim. If the claim goes through and is allowed, as seems likely, the floodgates could open for state entities to sue companies for emissions and other environmental violations.
Environmental compliance is already a heavily regulated and litigated area of law. A change in law of this kind could put corporations throughout the country at even greater risk of facing major lawsuits.
The importance of compliance
Any corporation in Ohio should take care. This type of litigation shows that the federal government and state governments take environmental compliance very seriously.
All the problems for Volkswagen started in 2015 when they used technology to fabricate the results of emissions tests on their vehicles. Compliance would have been a simpler and much more financially viable option for handling the emissions regulations they were facing.
Companies should learn from this lawsuit and work with an experienced legal team to handle regulatory compliance needs. Working with skilled attorneys can help companies of all sizes understand the demands and remain in compliance to avoid profit-destroying lawsuits of this kind.