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Honda Civic Hybrid lawsuit could go guerrilla in small claims courts *UPDATE

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 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.
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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 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

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