Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Woman wins small claims case against Honda over misleading Civic Hybrid mileage

A woman who took Honda to small claims court over her Civic Hybrid's inability to deliver its advertised fuel economy has wond her case. Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Douglas Carnahan awarded Heather Peters $9,867 on Wednesday, saying Honda misled her about the expected mileage.

Peters opted out of a class-action lawsuit so she could attempt to garner a higher payment in the case. Those who accepted the settlement in the class-action lawsuit would get between $100 and $200 and $1,000 rebate coupons toward the purchase of a new Honda. Meanwhile, the lawyers in the case would receive $8.5 million.

Peters seemingly had the advantage in the case. Not only is Peters a former attorney, in California, defendants like Honda are prohibited from bringing attorneys to represent them. In addition, California sets a maximum of $10,000 that can be awarded in small claims court, much better than the proposed settlement.

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In early January, that maximum is what Peters asked Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Douglas G. Carnahan to award her. He awarded her slightly less than that, but as the old saying goes, somewhat paraphrased, "close enough for (auto) engineers."

Peters hoped to inspire a rash of lawsuits by the other 200,000 owners of the Hybrid Honda Civic model that was sold in 2006. If all 200,000 owners of the cars sued and won in small claims cost (assuming the maximum $10,000 award), it could Honda $2 billion.

It would also mean no big payday for lawyers, something that resonates with many among John and Jane Q. Public.

Peters has also created a website, which offers guidence to others on how to file small claims suits if they opt out of a class-action suit. She said she has been contacted by hundreds of car owners.

Legal experts had said it was unlikely that all owners would take the small claims route because it takes a lot of time and effort to pursue a small claims case. With Peters' win, the approach may become popular, as the result was significantly more than the settlement. In addition, this approach need not be limited to this one case. Time will tell.

While Peters claimed her car never approached its promised 50 MPG and that once the battery began deteriorating it got no more than 30 MPG, a Honda technical expert who testified said the company was required by federal law to post a sticker estimating the highest MPG the car could get, adding that the mileage varied depending on how the car was driven.

Honda said Peters was not deceived.

Peters still owns the car and asked for compensation for money lost on gas, as well as punitive damages, amounting to $10,000.

A judge in San Diego County is due to rule in March on whether to approve Honda's class-action settlement. Members of the class have until Feb. 11 to accept or opt-out of the deal.

Meanwhile, the limit for small claims damages ranges from $2,500 to $15,000, depending on the state. As noted above, California's limit is $10,000.

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