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Pinellas woman files class action lawsuit against Volkswagen dealers

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A Pinellas County woman has filed suit against two local Volkswagen dealers for selling her a car with falsified emissions ratings. The suit stems from news earlier this year that Volkswagen manufactured cars with illegal software that faked federal emissions tests.

The Environmental Protection Agency order led to nearly a half million VW, Audi and Porsche diesel models being recalled. Former VW CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned just one day after news broke in late September.

But Palm Harbor resident and co-founder of the Suncoast Animal League, Annette Dettloff purchased a 2013 Passat with a “clean diesel” system in late 2012 — before the public knew about the cheated diesel systems.

Dettloff claims the salespeople pushed the diesel model citing better performance and fuel efficiency. The diesel model was also more expensive than the standard gasoline engine Passat she also test-drove. According to the lawsuit, the premium for a “clean diesel” model ranged anywhere between $2,805 to $6,855.

Dettloff also claims the dealerships — Lokey Volkswagen in Clearwater and Bert Smith Volkswagen in St. Pete — knew about the faulty software and sold the vehicle anyway.

Dettloff’s lawsuit is the first against dealerships or Volkswagen in relation to cheated emissions software in Pinellas County. However, Dettloff filed a class action suit and seeks relief on behalf of all customers who purchased faulty cars in Florida.

It’s unclear how many of the half million affected vehicles were sold in Florida, however Dettloff claims such information could easily be obtained through sales records.

Controversy around the Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche diesel models has largely swirled around the actual car manufacturers.

The lawsuit references an advertisement boasting the vehicles as not “your daddy’s diesel. Stinky, smoky, and sluggish.” It goes on to describe the new “TDI Clean Diesel” as “ultralow sulfur fuel, direct injection technology and extreme efficiency.”

But, it appears Dettloff’s may be among the first to directly target a dealership.

It also seems odd that Dettloff is filing suit against two dealerships. According to lawsuit documents, she test drove the vehicle at the Lokey dealership in Oldsmar but that the vehicle was transferred from Lokey to Bert Smith. The argument does not make clear where she actually purchased the vehicle but seems to insinuate because the vehicle had been at two dealerships, both were responsible for its sale.

She is seeking damages fraud and racketeering and claims her vehicle is worth substantially less because of the defect and, at worst, is unsalable.

The lawsuit also names Volkswagen Group of America and Germany’s Volkswagen AG.

The lawsuit was filed November 9 by Dettloff’s attorneys with the Wilkes & McHugh law firm best known for aggressive work on behalf of victims and their families on nursing home neglect cases.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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