TORRANCE, Calif. — Lawyers for the American Honda Motor company are heading back to court trying to overturn a highly publicized small claims court award to a woman who sued over the poor fuel mileage of her hybrid Honda Civic.
Honda appealed the $9,867 award to Heather Peters after 1,700 hybrid owners followed her example and opted out of a class action settlement designed to give some 200,000 owners of the cars between $100 and $200 each plus a rebate if they buy a new Honda.
Peters sued the giant automaker when her hybrid failed to get a promised 50 miles per gallon. Her suit was a unique end run around the class action process which she said offered too little to Honda owners and too much to lawyers. She urged Honda owners to take the small claims route as she did.
Honda’s appeal of the small claims verdict is due back in court Thursday before a superior court judge who is hearing testimony from both sides in what is essentially a retrial. According to small claims rules, this is the last chance for review of the case. It cannot be appealed further.
Unlike the small claims trial, Honda has legal representation and Peters, who renewed her law license, is presenting new evidence she has discovered since she received her award. She testified in the first part of the hearing last Friday with lawyers for Honda questioning her.
The class action settlement approved by a judge last month pays owners of about 200,000 Honda Civics from model years 2003 to 2009 between $100 and $200, plus a rebate toward the purchase of a new Honda. Owners of models from 2006 to 2008 get the larger amount due to additional claims over battery defects.
The judge has valued the settlement at $170 million. Attorneys for the plaintiffs have pegged the value between $87.5 million and $461.3 million, depending largely on how many people accept rebates of up to $1,500.
The judge approved more than $8 million in plaintiff attorneys’ fees in his 43-page ruling.