LOS ANGELES—The California owner of a 2006 Honda Civic hybrid has won an unusual small-claims court lawsuit against the automaker over the vehicle’s failure to meet fuel economy promises.
Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Douglas Carnahan awarded Heather Peters $9,867 on Wednesday, saying Honda did mislead her about the expected mileage.
“At a bare minimum Honda was aware that by the time Peters bought her car there were problems with its living up to its advertised mileage,” he wrote in the judgment.
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 promised 21.26 kilometres per litre (kpl) when she bought it.
“I am absolutely thrilled. Sometimes big justice comes in small packages,” said Peters. “This is a victory for Honda Civic owners everywhere.”
Peters, a former lawyer, hoped to inspire a flood of lawsuits by other hybrid Honda Civic owners, suggesting small-claims costs to Honda could exceed $2 billion if more owners come forward.
She launched a website, DontSettleWithHonda.org, and said she has been 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.
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.
Peters claimed her he car never came close to the promised 21.26 kpl and that it got no more than 12.75 kpl 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.
Honda insists 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.