Owners of Audi A6 models with allegedly defective digital fuel-level displays got the green light to pursue a proposed class-action suit seeking a full refund and punitive damages.
U.S. District Judge Thomas O'Neill Jr. in Phil-adelphia rejected a bid by Volkswagen of America Inc. to toss out the case.
The suit contends that defective instrument panel fuel-level sensors in A6s manufactured since 1998 incorrectly display the amount of gas left, making drivers vulnerable to loss of control without warning.
'They think they have a full tank when they're running out of gas,' said one of the plaintiffs' lawyers, David Gorberg of Philadelphia.
Audi of America spokeswoman Jennifer Garber said the company does not comment on pending litigation.
Garber said that last summer Audi voluntarily recalled about 48,500 1998, 1999 and early production 2000 A6s in the United States and 2,900 in Canada to replace fuel-sending units inside the tank.
'All current and future ones will have the new technology,' Garber said.
Garber said that as of mid-December, 52 percent of the recalled cars have been fixed.
Dealerships have the necessary parts and 'they're continuing to have appointments over the next couple of months to complete everything,' she added.
But Philadelphia lawyer David Shulick, the plaintiffs' lead counsel, said, 'I don't believe the fix has fixed it.'
He said many owners have brought their cars in several times because of unsuccessful attempts by dealerships to do the repairs.
In court, Volkswagen unsuccessfully argued that the case should be dismissed because no individual owner would be entitled to more than $75,000 in damages, the minimum for a federal suit.
At most, it argued, an A6 with a defective fuel display would be worth $10,000 less.
But O'Neill ruled that the amount in dispute under Pennsylvania's consumer protection law is the purchase price of the vehicle - about $50,000 - because the alleged defect 'relates to an integrated system that is necessary to the safe operation of the vehicle.'
That law also allows triple damages and attorney fees, he said, crossing the $75,000 threshold.
Shulick said his clients also will seek punitive damages 'for knowingly selling defective automobiles.'
The next steps are to ask the judge to certify the case as a class action and to conduct pretrial discovery.