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Think back to 2007, and the case of John True, the man who sued Honda for what he said were misleading claims about the fuel economy of the Civic Hybrid. The EPA said the car got 42 combined miles per gallon, but True got more like 32. Honda settled what became a class-action lawsuit out of court in 2009, although even at that time we were wondering if it was a fair deal. The proposed settlement gave Civic hybrid drivers the option to get either up to $1,000 off the purchase of a new Honda or a $100 check if they could prove they complained to Honda about the mileage. The lawyers in the case were made millions, and 26 state attorneys general called the settlement "not fair, adequate or reasonable." Heather Peters was one of those Civic hybrid drivers, and she's found a way to strike back.

Peters' solution is the Torrance, CA Small Claims Court. Since California law prevents Honda from bringing in an attorney, Peters figures the sides are more balanced, and she's asking for $10,000, "to compensate her for spending much more on gasoline than expected," writes the LA Times. Peters goes to small claims court on January 3rd, and is rallying other unhappy 2006-2008 Civic hybrid drivers – of which there are many – to do the same where they live. She's created DontSettleWithHonda.org and set up a Twitter account to share information about the strategy that the Times calls "a small-claims flash mob" that could herald a whole new way of individuals asking for fairness when big corporations make mistakes or intentionally do something wrong. This could get interesting.

*UPDATE: Peters has issued a press release on the matter, which we've pasted after the jump.
Show full PR text
Viral Small Claims Case Could Sink 5 Class Action Settlements and Cost Honda $2 Billion

Los Angeles, CA - Honda is on the brink of settling five class action lawsuits alleging false advertising of 50 MPG for its Civic Hybrids for pennies on the dollar, but one small claims case gone viral could change all of that and leave Honda facing liability of $2 billion instead and defending itself in thousands of small claims courts across the nation.

A front page article in the Los Angeles Times used the term "a small-claims flash mob" to describe the filing of a single small claims case against Honda in Torrance, California together with the launch of www.dontsettlewithhonda.org and its associated Twitter and YouTube sites that teach 200,000 other disgruntled Civic Hybrid owners nationwide how to "just say no" to a $100-$200 proposed class action settlement (where lawyers get $8.474 million) and take Honda to small claims court instead, where at least in California, lawyers are not allowed.

Heather Peters will have her day in small claims court on January 3rd and could win up to $10,000 (the new 2012 California small claims limit) in damages including the "hybrid premium" she paid over the sticker price, her increased costs of gas due to getting just 30 MPG and the reduced resale value of her car. It may be the biggest little small claims case that Honda will ever face evidenced by the fact that the Associated Press is sending the same reporter who covered the trials of Conrad Murray, O.J. Simpson and Rodney King. Ms. Peters, a former corporate defense attorney, says:

"Class actions are great for little cases, but not for cases like this where Honda's false advertising is costing already cash-strapped families more every day at the gas pump. It's time for Honda to go one on one with its customers where they can't hide behind high priced lawyers. I want people to know that small claims court is not so scary, it's a lot like Judge Judy."

It remains to be seen if the San Diego judge presiding over the five class action lawsuits against Honda for false advertising will approve the proposed settlement on March 16, 2012. A prior proposed settlement was rejected by the court when the Attorney Generals from twenty six states, including California, objected to it as unfair to consumers, and they may object again. Civic Hybrid owners have until February 11th to opt-out, or they can remain in the class and still object to the settlement.

Honda has attempted four different legal maneuvers to postpone the trial of Ms. Peters' small claims case until after the deadline had passed for Hybrid owners to opt-out of the class action, but the small claims judge said "no" all four times and the trial will proceed as originally scheduled on January 3rd at 1:30 p.m. in Torrance Small Claims Court, Dept. 8, at 825 Maple Ave., Torrance, California. For more info about media access to the courtroom visit http://www.lasuperiorcourt.org/courtnews/ui/main.aspx


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  • 19 Comments
      winc06
      • 4 Months Ago
      Sounds fraudulent to me. Not only are car makers careful not to make mileage claims, they are prohibited from doing so by the DOT. They can only quote what is on the government sticker which also has the "your mileage may vary" disclaimer. None of this makes any sense. Anyone can drive a car so that it does not meet sticker mileage. All makers would be open to lawsuits if this suit is valid.
      harlanx6
      • 4 Months Ago
      Advantage, Toyota Prius!
      Big Joe
      • 4 Months Ago
      can i sue my GM and ford manufacture for the poor fuel economy, i never got even close to the estimated epa on the window sticker
      Actionable Mango
      • 4 Months Ago
      Virtually nobody is getting anywhere near the claimed numbers for the HCH. We're talking 40% off.. that's huge. I think they have a valid complaint, even more so since gas mileage is a major marketing point of that car. Wouldn't you be upset too? Some owners ARE reporting that they get the right mileage. Some owners report that they got the right mileage, but then after a "software update" they now get the dramatically worse mileage. One of the problems here is that a simple software update can dramatically change a car's performance. The HCH you buy now will have software in it that is not the same as tested by the EPA. If you had 50mpg car, then the dealer did a software update that you didn't ask for and didn't want, resulting in a 32mpg car, you'd be upset too.
      uncle_sam
      • 4 Months Ago
      I am going to buy a maybach and a lambo. I will floor them like heck and then I WILL SUE THOSE LIARS. Oh and anyone a free prius or a free volt? How about a free nissan leaf. Oh I floord it and only got 60 miles range. what a bad car? this is bs
        EZEE
        • 4 Months Ago
        @uncle_sam
        Reminds me of the people who eat at McDonalds every day, weight 400lbs, the sue McDonalds. Like, 'dude, you know McDonalds sells salads, right?'.
      paulwesterberg
      • 4 Months Ago
      When the government abdicates its responsibility to enforce truth in advertising and allows companies to self report their their vehicle mileage to the EPA it is up to citizens to bring these companies to justice. Honda would be better off just paying her. Trying to appeal this case will cost them more in attorney's fees.
      • 4 Months Ago
      In the story he said the best he got was 34.6 mpg and did not clarify what was meant by loaded with my keyboard and amp and all the sound stuff. I wonder was some of this stuff loaded on the roof and how much did it all weight. I own a 2007 chrysler automatic with 180 hp V6 (2.7L non hybrid) and I was able to get 38.5 on a recent trip all on xpressway driving. Got to be something wrong with that car or something is missing from this story.
      Tweaker
      • 4 Months Ago
      Did anybody tell her that she is limited to $7,500 in Cal small claims? I can see Honda turning around and appealing any decision in Superior Court, which is their right. This allows them lawyers and the ability to potentially squash any other future ambitious litigators.
      Jeff
      • 4 Months Ago
      Is this a joke, shouldn't these people be suing the EPA? The fuel economy estimates from the 2007 era were all bogus and circa 2009 the whole way the EPA calculates fuel economy changed due to the tens of thousand of similar complaints from other consumers. It ended up reducing the fuel economy of all cars and trucks by ~10%. The Civic Hybrid was reduced from the new EPA calculations taking it down to 40 city and 45 highway, down from 49 and 51 respectively. It's worth noting that of 68 people reporting mileage for 2007 HCH of the fueleconomy.gov site, the average fuel economy was 42.8 mpg or just slightly above the revised EPA combined city/hwy mileage of 42mpg. Is there really a case here? http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/calculatorCompareSideBySidePopUp.jsp?column=1&id=23533
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Jeff
        I am an owner of a 2007 honda civic hybrid. I was getting about 40 to 43 mpg prior to the software update. After Honda made me update my software, my car started getting 30 to 35 mpg. Do I have a case here or should I just accept the settlement?
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Jeff
        There are two valid arguments to be made in this case. For one, Honda put out promotional advertisements stating the car would receive 50 mpg with no change in driving habits. Most members of the class experienced 35-40 mpg and Honda's explanation is that class memebers are all bad drivers. However, the real meat of the case lies in a later software update Honda released. Honda found out that their batteries were deteriorating faster than expected and would not, in many cases, meet the warranty requirements set forth by states. The batteries cost ~$2k each plus ~$1k in labor to install. To avoid warranty replacement, they released a 'mandatory firmware recall.' They claimed the update fixed issues with the original firmware when infact it decreased battery usage which decreased mileage. To make matters worse, the updated firmware actually did more than just decrease mileage. It caused the car to act sluggish and drive poorly. Many Honda owners with the new firmware report mileage in the 28-29mpg range (myself included). This isn't a minor difference due to EPA's numbers being estimates. This is fraud committed by Honda - they lied about the firmware to avoid paying out warranty claims to Civic owners.
      EZEE
      • 4 Months Ago
      Good Lord. My Fusion's gas non hybrid engine is averaging 31.4mpg. Every car I have owned has gotten as good, or better mpg, and I don't even try. Well okay, with the escape hybrid I DID actually try, but that was more due to the fun of having the electric motor on as much as possible, and being evil by sneaking up on people and honking the horn. But besides that, take your foot off the gas pedal for goodness sake.
      HVH20
      • 4 Months Ago
      So if I get better mileage than Honda claimed and I actually end up spending less on gas than I had planned, does that mean I need to send them a check for the difference? This lawsuit is retarded.
        • 4 Months Ago
        @HVH20
        Based on your 'logic' I guess all auto manufacturers should be allowed to make a car with one version of software to be tested by the EPA and another to be actually used by consumers. That way they can boost their EPA numbers while avoiding using quality parts that last for the stated warranty duration. In the case of the HCH, Honda released a firmware update that ruined fuel economy to avoid warranty claims on batteries. The car with the new firmware is no longer the car tested by the EPA. The EPA has not retested this car after. If it did, the mileage would be completely different.
      • 4 Months Ago
      When I bought my 2007 Honda Civic Hybrid, the window sticker claimed 49/51 MPG. I get around 43 MPG on average. I'm not sure why I would want to sue Honda. The EPA, not Honda, makes the window sticker and has since adjusted the way they rate all cars. Even if I was getting less than the EPA, that's not abnormal. It's an average. Some will get above, some will get below.
        • 4 Months Ago
        did you go get the software update that Honda asked you to?
        paulwesterberg
        • 4 Months Ago
        The epa allows honda to test and report mileage for their own vehicles. They are supposed to used the EPAs standard test.
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