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Los Angeles, CA - Woman Wins Small-claims Suit Over Honda Hybrid

Published on: February 1, 2012 11:55 PM
By: AP
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Los Angeles, CA - The Southern California owner of a Honda hybrid car has won her unusual small-claims court lawsuit against the automaker over the vehicle’s failure to deliver its stated fuel economy.

A Los Angeles Superior Court commissioner on Wednesday awarded Heather Peters $9,867.

Peters opted out of a class-action lawsuit so she could try to claim a higher payment for the failure of her Civic to deliver the 50 miles per gallon that was promised when she bought it.

Informed of the decision by The Associated Press, Peters exulted, “Wow! Fantastic.”

“I am absolutely thrilled. Sometimes big justice comes in small packages,” she said. “This is a victory for Honda Civic orders everywhere.”

Peters, a former lawyer, hoped to inspire a flood of such lawsuits by the other 200,000 owners of the Hybrid Honda Civic model sold in 2006. She said that if all 200,000 owners of the cars sued and won in small claims cost, it could Honda Motor Co. $2 billion.

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She launched a website, DontSettleWithHonda.org, and said she was contacted by hundreds of other car owners seeking guidance in how to file small claims suits if they opted out of a class-action case already filed.

The upside of small claims court is that there are no attorneys’ fees and cases are decided quickly. Individual payments are far greater than in class-action cases.

Honda’s proposed class-action settlement would give aggrieved owners $100 to $200 each and a $1,000 credit toward the purchase of a new car. Legal fees in the class action case would give trial lawyers $8.5 million, Peters said.

Legal experts had said it was unlikely that all owners would take the small claims route because of the time and energy involved in pursuing such lawsuits. But it was a unique approach that could have an impact.

Superior Court Commissioner Douglas Carnahan held two hearings on the claim in January.

Peters claimed her he car never came close to the promised 50 mpg and that it got no more than 30 miles per gallon when the battery began deteriorating. She still owns the car and wanted to be compensated for money lost on gas, as well as punitive damages, amounting to $10,000.

A Honda technical expert who testified at an earlier hearing said the company was required by federal law to post the sticker estimating the highest mileage the car could get. But he said the mileage varied on how the car was driven. The company said Peters was not deceived.

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 decline the deal.

Small claims courts generally handle private disputes that do not involve large amounts of money. In many states, that means small debts, quarrels between tenants and landlords and contract disagreements. Attorneys aren’t usually there; in California, litigants aren’t allowed to have lawyers argue their case.

The limit for small claims damages in California is $10,000. In other states it ranges from $2,500 to $15,000.


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Read Comments (6)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Feb 02, 2012 at 12:24 AM Anonymous Says:

This decision will get thrown out in on initial appeal. The MPG labels posted on car windows are strictly controlled by EPA regulations as to how the mileage is estimated. The car companies often complain the labels are either too low or too high. This woman sued the wrong party and its not clear she would have standing to sue EPA.

2

 Feb 02, 2012 at 09:50 AM Mark Levin Says:

Either Honda had a bad lawyer or the judgy wudgy is a socialist moron.

3

 Feb 02, 2012 at 10:31 AM AP Says:

There are a host of reliable independent car reviewers that would have jumped on Honda if their claim of 50 mpg was materially false. Must have been a socialist judge.

4

 Feb 02, 2012 at 10:33 AM clear-thinker Says:

Reply to #2  
Mark Levin Says:

Either Honda had a bad lawyer or the judgy wudgy is a socialist moron.

or perhaps a radio host masquerading as a constitutional lawyer

5

 Feb 02, 2012 at 01:08 PM clear-thinker Says:

Reply to #3  
AP Says:

There are a host of reliable independent car reviewers that would have jumped on Honda if their claim of 50 mpg was materially false. Must have been a socialist judge.

Or a Ford stockholder. Why do you think that this decision has to do with captitalism versus socialism. Are you that shallow?

6

 Feb 02, 2012 at 05:25 PM PMOinFL Says:

Reply to #4  
clear-thinker Says:

or perhaps a radio host masquerading as a constitutional lawyer

LOL - That was the line of the day. Kudos to you!

7

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