Woman sues Honda in small claims court

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Honda Civic Hybrid, 2003

Honda Civic Hybrid, 2003. Image: jeff_finley/Flickr/CC BY-ND

A Los Angeles woman, disgruntled with fuel mileage claims made by Honda, is taking a novel approach to her legal grievances. She has decided to opt out of a proposed class-action suit and take the automaker to small-claims court. Furthermore, she is encouraging other Honda owners to do the same thing. If the strategy is successful and starts a trend, it could cause major grief for the automaker.

Proposed class-action suit

The grievance involves a 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid owned by Heather Peters of Los Angeles. In small claims court, she can sue for up to $10,000. And California law won’t allow Honda to bring a high-priced attorney.

The automaker promised the cars would deliver about 50 mpg. Instead, according to the proposed class-action suit, the cars could only muster an average of about 30. The suit, first proposed in 2007, affects more than 150,000 owners of 2003-2009 Honda Civic Hybrids.

Urging others to follow

Peters, via her DontSettleWithHonda.org website and a social media campaign, is urging all those other affected Civic Hybrid owners to follow in her footsteps and file small claims grievances against Honda.

Peters said:

“I want them to know they can file in Small Claims Court and that it is not so scary.”

Her hearing is scheduled in Torrance, Calif., where Honda Motors has its U.S. West Coast headquarters, for Tuesday, Jan. 3.

Proposed settlement inadequate

Peters, a former corporate lawyer, says the attorneys in the class-action case would have been compensated with millions of dollars while the plaintiffs with the real grievances would receive tokens.

In March of 2010, a proposed settlement for the class-action suit was rejected by a California judge on the grounds that it did not adequately compensate the plaintiffs. The settlement would have given each plaintiff who decided not to keep his or her Civic a rebate coupon worth $1,000. Plaintiffs who chose to keep their cars would get a $500 coupon. Honda later agreed to also kick in $100 cash for each plaintiff, along with a DVD on tips for improving mileage.

If Peters can get others to follow in her footsteps, it could give a whole new headache to an industry already weary of government mandates, forced recalls and unending litigation.

Aaron Jacoby, a Los Angeles attorney for the automotive industry, said:

“This could create a lot of problems in the industry.”

Consumer versus corporation

The strategy could become popular in addressing grievances with other industries as well. Many plaintiffs working together, each with an individual case and bypassing expensive attorneys, could put consumers and corporate America face-to-face on a more level playing field.

Richard Cupp, Jr., a law professor at California’s Pepperdine University, said:

“There’s an old saying among lawyers. If you want real justice, go to small claims court.”

The Honda Civic Hybrid has been redesigned for better mileage for 2012.


Los Angeles Times
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