A judge had overturned a small claims judgment amounting to U.S.$10,000 against the American Honda Motor Co. The award was won by a Hybrid Civic Owner who claimed that the company misrepresented the vehicle’s capability to achieve fifty (50) miles per gallon.
The reversal was made by Superior Court Judge Dudley W. Gray II, after Honda appealed a court commissioner’s grant of damages to petitioner Heather Peters. The judge had found that Peters had the standing to sue in state court but it was federal rules that govern fuel economy ratings together with the advertising claims. It also found that most owners of this particular kind of vehicle were able to achieve fuel economy mileage near the estimates of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA miles per gallon ratings are done merely for comparison purposes between vehicles and does not consider other vehicular factors such as the condition of the car or the trip distance, both of which affects the car’s mileage performance.
The decision penned by Gray said, “Despite these many variables, most of the owners of the subject vehicle achieve fuel economy very close to the EPA estimate.” He added that the automaker’s advertising slogans “are not specific promises of anything.”
Peter, a lawyer herself, filed a small claims case on her out and opting out of the class action settlement that offered 200,000 Honda Civic Hybrid as much as U.S.$200 together with a rebate if they choose to purchase a new Honda. With the award in the small claims court, she was able to convince about 1,700 other hybrid owners to follow the route she had taken.
Honda for its part, said that there were no exact numbers for those that had opted out but it has already won sixteen of the seventeen cases filed in small claims court since January of this year.
The reversal of the ruling by the superior court judge would not have a direct effect on the other cases. Many legal observers though said that this route could pose a challenge to many others filing in small claims court. While it is not binding on other courts, according to an expert, it certainly is persuasive on others.
Peters for her part said she was disappointed with the ruling but glad as to the attention she had brought to her plight and to many others like her. She quipped, “They used to go the extra mile in customer service, now they go the extra mile fighting customers in court.” She made these comments on her personal website.
In a statement, Honda said, “We are never satisfied when a customer is anything less than satisfied with one of our products and the company does not relish the necessity to defend the truth in opposition to any of our customers.”