A small claims lawsuit could have a big impact on car owners. A Los Angeles woman alleges that her Honda Civic hybrid never achieved the 50 miles-per-gallon that the car maker promised.
Honda was reprimanded by a judge Wednesday for having a lawyer accompany two technicians to a small claims court hearing in a dispute over mpg ratings.
It was the second hearing in the unusual case brought by Heather Peters who opted out of a class-action lawsuit that involved thousands of Honda owners and filed a small claims lawsuit against Honda over her hybrid Civic’s mpg rating. She claims her hybrid Civic, which she purchased in 2006, failed to deliver on the posted 50-mpg rating.
The car achieved closer to 30 mpg because of technical problems involving the battery, according to the lawsuit. Peters is seeking $10,000. The hybrid model relies on the gas-powered engine when the battery is not operating, which can affect fuel economy.
“If the car was in my driveway and they broke into it and they syphoned out my gas that would be a crime,” said Peters. “They’d go to jail.”
The original class-action suit in 2007 claimed the Civic hybrid's actual mpg rating fell short of owners' expectations. The proposed settlement was rejected by a California judge in 2010.
But Peters took the small-claims route, which does not allow Honda to spend money on legal help. The commissioner in the case refused to consider a brief filed earlier this month by Honda's chief counsel because small claims court proceedings prohibit litigants.
"I spent 10 years dealing with hot-shot lawyers, I was a hot-shot lawyer," Peters said. "I don't want to do that. Life is too short. I really think justice is its purest form is done here, whether I win or not."
In Wednesday’s hearing two Honda technicians defended the Civic’s 50 mpg rating saying they believed that most Civic hybrids earned the rating.
In an effort to convince others to consider small claims court, Peters launched DontSettleWithHonda.org -- a website that details the original settlement offer and how much of that would go to attorneys involved in the case.
A decision is expected next week.