The owner of a Honda Civic hybrid won an unusual Small Claims Court lawsuit Wednesday against the auto giant that some legal experts believe could change strategies for both Small Claims Court and class-action litigation.
A Los Angeles County court commissioner ruled that American Honda Motor Co. negligently misled Civic owner Heather Peters when it claimed the hybrid could achieve as much as 50 miles per gallon.
Court Commissioner Douglas Carnahan, who mailed his 26-page decision to Peters and Honda, awarded her $9,867.19 in damages. That is close to the maximum $10,000 allowed in Small Claims Court that the Los Angeles resident was seeking. The Times obtained a copy of the decision.
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“It is a victory for Civic Hybrid owners and consumers everywhere,” said Peters, a former lawyer. “Sometimes big justice comes in small packages.”
Her award was far greater than the damages she would have collected had she signed onto a class-action-lawsuit settlement over similar claims against Honda.
Peters sued Honda after learning that the proposed settlement covering her 2006 vehicle would pay trial lawyers $8.5 million while Civic hybrid owners would get as little as $100 and rebate coupons for the purchase of a new car.
Despite her victory, Peters may have a tough time collecting any money from the automaker.
“We disagree with the judgment rendered in this case, and we plan to appeal the decision,” Honda said.
In taking the case to Los Angeles County Superior Court, the company will be allowed to bring in its army of lawyers to try to overturn the small-claims judgment.
Even so, Peters’ win was “amazing” and could affect litigation strategy in California and other states that don’t allow lawyers to represent either side in Small Claims Court, said Donald Earl Childress III, who teaches civil procedure at Pepperdine University School of Law.