Many people would be unwilling to battle the Honda Motor Company, the sixth largest automobile manufacturer in the world, in court without an attorney, but that is exactly what consumer Heather Peters is preparing to do. Peters, along with many other Honda customers, are complaining that Honda falsely advertised that Civic hybrids would get about 50 miles per gallon, but because of technical problems the car gets closer to 30 mpg.
Honda has acknowledged that the problem effects 2006 through 2008 Civic hybrids and has settled a class-action lawsuit, but the settlement gives trial lawyers $8.5 million while Civic owners would get as little as $100 and rebate coupons for the purchase of a new vehicle. Peters isn’t satisfied with the deal. So, on January 3, 2012 she is taking Honda to Small Claims Court. The maximum she can receive is $10,000. Furthermore, through her website DontSettleWithHonda.org and DontSettleWithHonda Twitter account, Peters is urging Honda owners across the country to follow in her footsteps. As many as 500,000 eligible claimants have until February 11 to choose whether to take the proposed settlement or file their own small-claims actions as Peters has done. "I am just trying to give people a tool kit that shows they have options besides capitulating for one-hundred dollars or going out and hiring an expensive attorney," Peters said. Aaron Jacoby, a Los Angeles defense attorney who heads the automotive industry group at the Arent Fox law firm, says this “could create a lot of problems in the industry.” He says some states allow attorneys to represent clients in small claims court, which could prove daunting for individuals going up against them. It’s also a commitment of time and money, which some may not have to give.
Will this kind of action replace class-action lawsuits in the future? Does it put more money in the hands of consumers rather than lawyers? Will this add up to too much money paid in damages and put an undue burden on business?
Heather Peters, who has filed a small claims suit with Honda rather than accept their settlement offer and runs the website DontSettleWithHonda.org
Donald Earl Childress III, professor of civil procedure, Pepperdine University School of Law