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Honda calls ruling in Civic hybrid case 'radical,' plans appeal

It says a Small Claims Court erred by awarding a Civic hybrid owner nearly $10,000 in damages after ruling that Honda negligently misled her when it claimed the car could achieve up to 50 mpg.

February 03, 2012|By Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times

Except for saying that it will appeal, American Honda Motor Co. has not talked about its loss in a high-profile Civic hybrid lawsuit this week over fuel economy claims.

But Thursday evening, the automaker issued a statement on why it believes a Torrance Small Claims Court commissioner ruled in error when he awarded Civic owner Heather Peters $9,867.19 in damages. He ruled Wednesday that Honda negligently misled Peters when it claimed the hybrid could achieve as much as 50 miles per gallon.

The award was close to the maximum $10,000 allowed in Small Claims Court that the Los Angeles resident and former attorney was seeking.

"American Honda believes that the judgment in this case is a radical and unprecedented departure from California and federal law," the automaker said in a statement.

"The court stated in error that advertising [Environmental Protection Agency] fuel economy estimates is misleading unless the advertising also explains the effects of stop-and-go driving and the use of air conditioning. In fact, federal law does not permit states or state courts to impose additional requirements of this kind," said Honda, which has offices in Torrance.

"Thus, a Honda advertisement that accurately referenced EPA mileage estimates, truthfully stated that a driver can get 'up to 50 mpg' and carefully noted that mileage will vary is not misleading as a matter of law," Honda said.

Peters sued Honda after learning that a proposed class-action lawsuit settlement covering her 2006 vehicle would pay trial lawyers $8.5 million while Civic hybrid owners each would get as little as $100 and a rebate coupon toward the purchase of a new car.

Peters filed the case in Small Claims Court to prevent Honda from bringing its legal team to the battle. California law — and statutes in some other states — prohibits companies from using lawyers to mount a defense in Small Claims Court.

As it did in the trial, Honda said the federally required window label that was on the vehicle when Peters bought the Civic said mileage would vary depending upon a number of factors including options, driving conditions, driving habits and vehicle condition.

"Those factors affect gas mileage for every car on the road today, hybrid or not. American Honda's advertising regarding fuel economy of Civic hybrids was accurate when the vehicles were sold and remains accurate today," Honda said.

Peter argued at the trial that "the car never got more than 41 or 42 even on its very best day." She said fuel economy dropped to less than 30 mpg after a software update.

jerry.hirsch@latimes.com

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