Judgement reversed in Honda Civic Hybrid suit

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2006 Honda Civic Hybrid

The 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid. Its EPA mpg estimate started all the fuss. Image: brianwc/Flickr/CC BY-SA

A woman who won a judgement against Honda in small claims court has had the case overturned. Not only does the automaker not have to pay a nearly $10,000 judgement, but the woman has been ordered to pay Honda $75.

Judgement won in February

Heather Peters, a former corporate lawyer and the owner of a 2006 Civic Hybrid, opted out of a class-action suit last year that asserted Honda misrepresented the fuel economy of the model. Instead, she took her case to small claims court last January, where she could sue for up to $10,000 and, by law, Honda could not bring its high-priced attorneys.

Peters won a judgement of $9,867 for that action in February.

Decision reversed Tuesday

However, on Tuesday Superior Court Judge Dudley W. Gray II reversed the judgement. While he characterized Honda’s advertised claim that the Civic Hybrid can achieve 50 mpg as “sales puffery,” he also pointed out that those estimates come from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and do not constitute specific sales promises.

Not only will Peters not receive the $9,867, she has been ordered to pay Honda’s court fees. Because lawyers are forbidden in small-claims court, that amounts to a whopping $75 for administrative costs.

An unsatisfying settlement

The earlier class-action suit of about 200,000 plaintiffs reached a settlement amounting to less than $200 per claim, plus a rebate on a new car purchase. The less-than-satisfying return prompted Peters’ decision to leave the case and to strike out on her own in small-claims court.

Individual vs. corporation

At the time, many speculated that, if successful, the strategy could become a popular way for the little guy to take on huge corporations. However, Tuesday’s reversal may make the strategy seem less appealing.

Aaron Jacoby, a class-action lawyer in Southern California, said of the strategy:

“I think it will make it harder for them to fight their case on an individual basis. (The ruling is) not binding on another court, but it certainly is persuasive.”

[buy old car, buy new car, no pressure, no runaround.]

Other Civic owners follow suit

Peters’ initial victory prompted 1,700 other plaintiffs to refuse the class-action settlement. It is unclear exactly how many went on to file small claims cases, but Honda remarked, in a statement:

“Since January of this year, 17 similar small claims cases involving Civic Hybrid owners have been heard in courts across the country, and Honda has now prevailed in 16, based on facts and the law.”

After the reversal

Peters expressed disappointment over the decision on her website:

“(Honda) used to go the extra mile in customer service, now they go the extra mile fighting customers in court.”

Honda responded to the decision with its own statement:

“Honda is pleased with the Court’s decision … We are thankful for the support we received from the many satisfied Civic Hybrid owners who expressed their support throughout the legal process.”

So take that, disgruntled owners.


Detroit Free Press
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