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Honda loses in small claims over Civic Hybrid

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Published on Thu, Feb 2, 2012

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

Court hearing draws Honda Civic hybrid owners

Heather Peters and her 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times)

The occupy movement has come to small claims court. In a blow to both trial attorneys and the American Honda Motor Company, a lone Honda Civic Hybrid owner has prevailed in small claims court. Los Angeles County Court Commissioner Douglas Carnahan found that Heather Peters has a legitimate claim against Honda for her 2006 Civic Hybrid that has been averaging less than 30 miles per gallon. Commissioner Carnahan awarded Peters $9,867.19 in damages, which is virtually the maximum amount allowed in small claims court ($10,000). The case has drawn national attention because Peters chose to side-step the ongoing class action lawsuit against Honda for the very same issue (Paduano v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc.). In the Paduano case, previous-generation Honda Civic Hybrid owners are offered a tiny fraction of what was awarded Peters. As with many class-action lawsuits, a substantial portion of the settlement money will go to the trial lawyers that brought the case to court. By opting out of that case and choosing to pursue her claim in small claims court, Peters has succeeded in increasing her potential award to $10,000 in a courtroom setting that precludes lawyers (as with all small claims court cases, neither Honda nor Peters were allowed to be represented by attorneys). Peters told the Los Angeles Times that she 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. It should be noted that this case doesn’t hinge on the car’s failure to meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fuel economy ratings in normal driving. It’s not uncommon for many drivers to find that the EPA ratings can be illusive in their day-to-day driving—particularly cars prior to 2008 (EPA changed its testing methods in 2008 to more closely reflect normal driving patterns). The previous-generation Honda Civic Hybrid is unique in that the car company discovered its hybrid batteries would prematurely fail if the car’s software were not modified to rely less on the batteries. “Even if Honda's advertising was totally honest at the point of sale, last year Honda tricked Civic Hybrid owners into doing an irreversible software update,” said Peters. “The letter said that the update would ‘help prevent early IMA battery deterioration…but Honda didn't tell us that it would do this by reprogramming the engine to use more gas and would drastically reduce MPG.” Peters asserts that her car has been getting less than 30 miles per gallon since the update. "We disagree with the judgment rendered in this case, and we plan to appeal the decision," Honda informed the Times. “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,” says Jerry Hirsch of the Times. “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 Pepperdine University’s Donald Earl Childress III to Hirsch. Childress teaches civil procedure at its school of law. Heather Peters wants to help other Honda Civic Hybrid owners bring their own cases to small claims court. Toward this end, she has posted her own website, The deadline in which owners can “opt out” of the class action lawsuit and pursue their own claim is about to expire. Peters, however, has a page devoted to helping owners “opt out”. - RN

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