Volkswagen could be hit with $18 billion in U.S. fines

3 things you need to know about the Volkswagen scandal

Volkswagen could be hit with $18 billion in fines after the EPA and Justice Department sued the German auto maker over its emission cheating software.

The federal agencies filed a civil lawsuit in Detroit federal court Monday. It says EPA will seek fines of up to $37,500 per diesel car that violates U.S. environmental rules. It's also seeking up to $3,750 for each piece of equipment that was put there to cheat emissions tests.

There are about 500,000 diesel cars on the road from Volkswagen and its luxury brand Audi that violate the environmental rules, according to the suit. That means the fines could quickly top $18 billion if VW has to pay the full amount spelled out in the suit.

The suit is seeking only civil damages and not criminal penalties, although the EPA and Justice say they have not closed the door on a possible criminal action.

Related: Volkswagen sets up compensation fund for diesel car owners

Volkswagen has already admitted its cars had illegal software installed to trick emissions tests into thinking they complied with regulations, when in fact they would dump up to 40 times the allowed level of pollutants into the air. It has said it is working with U.S. and California environmental regulators on a fix to the problem, but he EPA said Monday that it has yet to reach an agreement on how to fix the problem.

A Volkswagen (VLKAY) spokeswoman did not have an immediate comment on the suit Monday.

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