Heather Peters made headlines last month when she took American Honda to California Small Claims Court. She accused the automaker of making false claims in regards to the fuel economy of her 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid. And she won.
According to Automotive.com, Los Angeles County Superior Court Commissioner Douglas Carnahan yesterday ruled in Peter’s favor, and awarded her $9867. Peters originally sought the $10,000 maximum allowed in a California small claim court ruling to make up for the extra costs she allegedly spent on fuel. She bought her Civic when it was advertised to achieve up to 50 mpg. Since then, a number of issues -- reportedly stemming from a faulty battery -- have caused her vehicle to rely more on the gasoline engine, which in turn has lowered her average fuel economy to no more than 30 mpg.
“It is a victory for Civic Hybrid owners and consumers everywhere,” Peters said. “Sometimes big justice comes in small packages.”
Peters filed her case last November when she was unsatisfied with the outcome of a class action settlement for the same issue. Owners were awarded between $100 to $200, plus a $1,000 voucher toward the purchase of a new Honda or Acura vehicle. Additionally, the trial lawyers would receive an $8.5 million payout.
“I want them to know they can file in Small Claims Court and that it is not so scary,” Peters said last month at the start of her trial. “I am just trying to give people a tool kit that shows they have options besides capitulating for $100 or going out and hiring an expensive attorney.”
California law prohibits the use of legal help at small claims courts, ultimately leveling the playing field between Peters and Honda, which sent in an engineer to represent the automaker. The battle, however, is far from over. Honda spokesperson Chris Martin released a statement yesterday saying the company "disagres with the judgment rendered in this case, and we plan to appeal the decision."
The appeal will take place at the Los Angeles County Superior Court, which means Honda will come armed with its army of lawyers, research, and documentation. Perhaps the most compelling evidence Peters presented at Small Claims Court were pictures of her car’s digital fuel economy readings.Automotive.com predicts that a number of important variables will be presented at appeals court including a thorough inspection of Peter’s vehicle and possibly a simulated test cycle for a more accurate fuel economy average.
The case presents itself as a thorn in American Honda’s side, regardless of which path it takes. By settling with the small claims court’s decision, there’s a strong possibility that 200,000 owners, who share Peter’s predicament, will be empowered to follow in her footsteps. Dragging this along further in appeals court, however, may lead to unwanted negative press and stigma attached to its line of hybrid cars.