A Honda owner who claims her Civic Hybrid failed to deliver on mpg promises took her complaint to small claims court Tuesday instead of hitching a ride as part of a proposed class-action settlement.
Heather Peters is asking for the maximum $10,000 to compensate her for spending more than she expected on gasoline for her Honda. Technical problems with the car meant the vehicle did not achieve claimed mpg figures.
"How do I feel about this car? Let me count the ways," said Peters. "I am so disappointed in this car."
A hearing in the small claims case was scheduled for Tuesday.
The original class-action lawsuit in 2007 claimed the Civic Hybrid's fuel economy fell well short of expectations. The proposed settlement was rejected by a California judge in March 2010.
But Peters mapped out her own legal challenge and went to small claims court. She opted out of a series of class-action lawsuits filed on behalf of similar Honda hybrid owners when she saw a proposed settlement would give owners no more than $200 cash and a rebate of $500 or $1,000 to purchase a new Honda.
"I would not be surprised if she won," said Richard Cupp Jr., who teaches product liability law at Pepperdine University.
"The judge will have a lot of discretion and the evidentiary standards are relaxed in small claims court," Cupp told the Associated Press.
A win for Peters could encourage others to take this simplified route, he said.
"There's an old saying among lawyers," Cupp told the AP. "If you want real justice, go to small claims court."
But he questioned whether her move, supported by publicity on the Internet and elsewhere, would start a groundswell of such suits. He suggested that few people would want to expend the time and energy that Peters has put into her suit when the potential payoff is as little as a few thousand dollars.
A judge in San Diego County is due to rule in March on whether to approve Honda's latest class action settlement offer. Members of the class have until Feb. 11 to accept or decline the settlement.