By Jonathan Stempel and Ben Klayman
May 9 Honda Motor Co has won the
reversal of a $9,867 small-claims judgment awarded to an owner
who claimed the Japanese automaker fraudulently overstated the
fuel economy of her Civic hybrid car.
Tuesday's decision by California Superior Court Judge Dudley
Gray overturned an award to Heather Peters, who had dropped out
of a class-action settlement to pursue her own lawsuit
concerning her 2006 vehicle.
According to her website on the case,
www.dontsettlewithhonda.org, Peters is among roughly 1,700
people who opted out of a class-action settlement covering a
potential 200,000 Honda owners.
That settlement awarded owners $100 or $200 each, plus
rebates if they bought new Hondas, court papers show.
In his decision, Gray said owners could not sue over Honda's
use of advertising slogans that its vehicles use "amazingly
little fuel" and save "plenty of money on fuel," saying such
slogans are "not specific promises of anything."
He also said that while Peters' fuel economy may have been
less than she expected, most other owners of her type of car
come "very close" to estimates from the federal Environmental
Peters claimed that Honda could owe more than $2 billion had
all affected owners opted out of the class-action settlement and
sued in small-claims court.
The court that approved the class-action settlement valued
that accord at $170 million. Lawyers for the plaintiffs had
estimated its value at between $87.5 million and $461.3 million.
Peters, a lawyer, represented herself in the case, and said
California law does not allow her to appeal Tuesday's decision.
"Obviously, I'm disappointed," she said in a phone
interview. "Honda used to be a brand that would go the extra
mile on customer service."
Peters said she still has her Civic, and that it has
recently been getting 25 miles per gallon. "I wish I could get
rid of it, I can't afford to," she said.
Chris Martin, a spokesman for American Honda Motor Co, said
the company is pleased with Gray's decision, "which affirms that
Honda was truthful in its advertising of the fuel economy
potential of the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid."
Peters on her website urged other Honda owners to follow her
strategy. However, Honda said it has prevailed in small claims
court in all but one of 17 similar cases filed this year, and is
deciding whether to appeal the ruling it lost.
The case is Peters v. American Honda Motor Co, Superior
Court of California, Los Angeles County, No. 11S02156.