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US judge chops anti-Civic crusade

2012-03-20 09:10

HEATHER PETERS: A judge has overturned her crusade against Honda US for giving false fuel consumption data.

SAN DIEGO, California - A US judge has tentatively approved a settlement to give owners of Honda Civic hybrids up to $200 cash to cover claims that the cars' fuel economy was inflated, casting aside arguments that an owner's victory in a small-claims court entitled them to a larger award.

The lawyers, however, are getting $8-million, with which Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor is happy. He saidthe essence of a settlement was compromise. He wrote in his judgement:

"No doubt the plaintiffs would have loved to have got more; certainly their counsel had every incentive to get as much as possible. Honda undoubtedly has many arrows left in its quiver and certainly would have preferred to pay nothing."


The judge has scheduled a hearing for March 23 to give opponents a last chance to voice objections.

The case gained widespread attention after a Los Angeles woman won $9 867 in a judgment against Honda in a small-claims court last month, a ruling that the automaker vowed to appeal; why? Because thousands of other Honda Civic hybrid owners would have climbed aboard and refused the miserly $200 that was being offered.

Heather Peters opted out of the class action so she could try to claim a larger damages award for her 2006 Civic's failure to deliver the less than six litres/100km promised.

The judge said Peters' victory carried little weight.

Peters, who recently renewed her law licence, said she was disappointed but not surprised, considering how the judge has discussed the case in court. Taylor got testy with her when she tried to address him at a hearing last month, saying he had not yet received confirmation that her licence was renewed. His patience wore thin when California and four other states briefly considered objecting to the settlement after Peters' victory.


Peters said she had no plans to appeal.

"It's an expensive proposition that neither my clients nor myself can fund, but we're taking donations on the Internet," she said.

The settlement pays owners of about 200 000 Honda Civics spanning from model years 2003 to 2009 between $100 and $200, plus a rebate toward the purchase of a new Honda. The judge also approved more than $8-million in plaintiff attorney fees in his 29-page tentative ruling on March 15.

More than 1700 Honda owners opted out of the settlement. Some believed consumers should be paid more. Some believed the plaintiff attorney fees were too high.


Kathy Proya, of Toronto, Ohio, called the settlement a "travesty of justice", saying it enriched lawyers while only covering a fraction of the loss from the 208 000 miles she logged on her 2005 Civic. Christian Matthews, of El Cerrito, California, equated Honda "a con man, swindler or a thief".

Still, the judge noted, many objectors were sympathetic to the automaker. Clancy Hughes, a physician in Alaska, said he was a satisfied customer and that the claims "seem spurious".

American Honda, the Japanese automaker's US subsidiary, can back out of the agreement if more than 1500 owners opt out but it has given no indication that it will. It has said the settlement is a "very good resolution".

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