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2012-02-15 09:24

FUEL CASE BATTLE: Honda Civic Hybrid owners in the US are following Heather Peter's example and taking the automaker to court over fuel consumption claims.

SAN DIEGO, California - A judge has granted California and four other US states more time to consider objecting to a class-action settlement between Honda and its car-owners over inflated fuel efficiency claims on the automaker's hybrid vehicles.

The states' sudden interest in the proposed settlement came soon after Honda owner Heather Peters won R76 084 in a small claims court - much more than the few hundred dollars cash that the class-action settlement is offering.


Attorneys-general in California, Iowa, Massachusetts, Texas and Washington requested, only two days before the deadline, for more time to consider the settlement with about 200 000 Honda Civic hybrid owners.

San Diego County Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor granted the states an extension until February 29 but only after questioning why they missed the deadline when dozens of opponents didn't. The states were notified of the settlement in October.

Taylor said: "They managed to get theirs in on time. I don't see why you can't."

Albert Shelden, a California deputy attorney-general, acknowledged to reporters that Peters' victory in February in a Los Angeles court caught the attention of the authorities.


Shelden said: "From a number of different sources, other questions have been raised. Everything figures in."

California has not decided whether to enter the fray or, if it does, on what grounds it would object, Shelden said. The amount of the offer would be among the questions it would consider.

Shelden said: "We're going to look at the whole settlement."

Honda said it believed the settlement was "a very good resolution".

The Japanese automaker said: "We look forward to a discussion with the state attorneys-general concerning the benefits that our customers will receive from the settlement."

Peters, who attended the hearing, told reporters the states' objections might carry enormous weight. "It resonates with the judges."

Alan Mansfield, an attorney for the class-action plaintiffs, said the significance was unclear. "It is not for me to presume what is important to a judge."


Peters, who has been working full-time to challenge the settlement, was denied an opportunity to address the judge. She told Taylor that her licence to practice law was recently reactivated but the judge said he didn't have any evidence to support her claim.

Peters opted out of the class-action suit so she could try to claim a larger damages award for the failure of her 2006 Honda Civic to deliver the 4.7 litres/100km promised. The proposed class-action settlement would give aggrieved owners the equivalent of R771 to R1 542 each and a R7 710 credit toward the purchase of a new car.

Legal fees in the class action would give trial lawyers, such as Alan Mansfiel, R61-million.

Honda noted that the settlement included rebates of up to R89 339 toward the purchase of a new car and a warranty extension on the battery. Some owners would be eligible to seek additional relief.

The judge granted the extension only after attorneys for Honda and the class-action plaintiffs said they had no problem with it. He gave less time than the states wanted and insisted on sticking to a March 16 hearing to decide whether to accept the settlement.

Geoff Greenwood, a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Justice, said California was taking the lead and declined to comment on his state's involvement.

Grant Woodman, a spokesman for the Massachusetts attorney-general, also declined to comment. Spokesmen for attorneys general in Texas and Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Shelden said the states would probably file any objections jointly.

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