Originally published February 14, 2012 at 11:30 a.m., updated February 14, 2012 at 4:12 p.m.
Heather Peters is the owner of a Honda Civic Hybrid. She sued Honda in a Los Angeles small claims court and was awarded a $9,867 settlement after proving that the carmaker's fuel economy advertisements were misleading.
Steve Semeraro is a professor of Law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law.
Statement from Honda
"American Honda intends to appeal the decision in Peters v. American Honda due to the substantial factual and legal errors reflected in the written decision." More...
Heather Peters claimed Honda misled her about her Civic hybrid’s fuel economy, so she took the car company to small claims court and won.
A judge awarded Peters $9,867.19, just under the maximum $10,000 allowed, agreeing with Peters’ claim that while her car’s brochure said she would get 50 miles per gallon, her car was only clocking 28 to 29 miles per gallon.
“Honda could have made me go away,” Peters told KPBS Television’s “Evening Edition.” “I offered to trade the car for another used car and they never called me.”
Peters said a dying battery meant Honda had to reprogram her car, which dropped her gas mileage to 28 or 29 from 40.
“So they used the battery less and the gas more, which is like siphoning gas out of my tank,” she said.
Honda disputes her claims and is challenging the small claims court judgement.
"We regret that Ms. Peters is unhappy with the reported mileage for her particular driving experience," the company said in a statement. "However, it is clearly pointed out on the federally required window label that accompanied her car that mileage will vary depending upon a number of factors including options, driving conditions, driving habits and vehicle condition."
While Peters could have joined more than 500,000 Honda owners in a class action lawsuit against the company, she found the potential reward—$200 and a coupon toward your next Honda—inadequate.
So Peters went to small claims court and won. Now she is working to urge other Honda owners to do the same using her website, www.dontsettlewithhonda.org.
"When they were negotiating the settlement, it was just hypothetical, what these claims might be worth," she said. "Nobody really knew. But now we really know. So there are a number of people that have objected."
Others agreed with Peters that the class action lawsuit was not enough. Five states including California are considering objecting to the proposed class-action settlement, and today a San Diego County Superior Court judge gave them more time to make their decision.
Judge Timothy Taylor agreed to give the state attorneys general from California, Iowa, Massachusetts, Texas and Washington until Feb. 29 to object to the settlement. California Deputy Attorney General Albert Shelden said it is not clear if California will intervene.
The final hearing is scheduled for March 16.