If you buy a new car but can’t get anywhere near the gas mileage the automaker says you should, can you sue them for misleading you?
For Heather Peters -- former attorney and owner of a 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid -- the answer is a resounding yes.
At the Torrance Small Claims Court in California yesterday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Commissioner Douglas Carnaham ruled that Honda had misled Peters into believing her 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid could achieve a gas mileage of 50 mpg.
In reality, Peters claimed her car “never got more than 41 or 42 [mpg] even on its very best day,” with gas mileages dropping below 30 mpg after Honda rolled out a software update designed to prolong the life of her car’s battery.
That, she said, was nowhere near the 50 mpg Honda advertised.
Peters took her case to the small claims court after realizing that tackling the issue through a class-action lawsuit would result in high paychecks for the legal teams involved -- but very little compensation for the owners bringing the action.
2006 Honda Civic Hybrid
Worse still, a class action lawsuit would enable Honda to bring its team of highly-skilled lawyers to court.
But in the small claims court under Californian law, lawyers are banned, meaning those bringing the claims aren't at a disadvantage against wealthy corporations. In other words, Peters stood a better chance of winning.
Involving three hours of testimony over two whole days, the case was one of the longest in Torrance Small Claims Court history, with Honda trying hard to prove there wasn’t an issue with the gas mileage of its 2006-2008 Civic Hybrid.
But the case didn’t go well for Honda, with Carnaham reprimanding the automaker for sending a lawyer to accompany two technicians during testimony.
Later on, Carnaham dismissed the 8-inch high pile of letters which one Honda representative said were from satisfied Civic hybrid owners, saying that it would simply prolong the hearing that had already gone on beyond most small claims court actions.
Honda’s only other defense? That the low gas mileage experience by Peters was a result of how she drove and maintained her car.
It didn’t work.
The court ruled in Peters favor, ordering Honda to pay her $9,857 in damages.
As the LAtimes points out however, the case is far from over. Under Californian law, Honda has the right to ask that the trial be heard again in the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
If that happens, Honda can bring its team of highly-skilled, highly-paid lawyers along too.
Peter is unfazed. With the ruling in her favor, she’s determined to help other unhappy Honda Civic owners opt out of class-action lawsuits and take their cases directly to the small claims court.
In fact, Peters claims she has heard from over 500 unsatisfied Civic Hybrid owners through her DontSettleWithHonda.org website, and plans to reactivate her legal license in order to help them take appropriate legal action against Honda.