Honda presented misleading information to the owner of a 2006 Civic Hybrid when it claimed the car could get as many as 50 miles per gallon, according to a legal ruling issued Wednesday.
Heather Peters, a Los Angeles resident, said her Civic achieved far less than that, and sued American Honda Motor Co. in Los Angeles Small Claims Court.
On Wednesday, a court commissioner awarded her $9,867.19 in damages, according to court records, which is far more than the approximate $100 to $200 she could have netted as part of a class-action lawsuit regarding the same issue. The award was near the $10,000 maximum allowed in small-claims court.
"They're still sticking to their story, saying that it's all my fault and I drive like a maniac," Peters said Thursday. "That's what they do, tell everyone it's their fault."
Her victory was considered precedent setting, and legal experts said it could open the floodgates for similar cases.
But it could also be one that is short-lived. In a written statement, Honda said it plans to appeal the decision. "We disagree with the judgment rendered in this case, and we plan to appeal the decision," Honda said.
In appealing, Honda could take the case to superior court, where it would be allowed to use its lawyers in arguing the case. In small claims court, California law prohibits either side from using legal representation.
For now, Peters is ecstatic.
She said her 2006 Civic Hybrid got far below the advertised 50 miles per gallon. At its best, she tells the Los Angeles Times, it got 42 mpg, and after she received a software update that should have improved performance, she said the fuel economy fell to less than 30 mpg.
On her website, Don'tSettleWithHonda.org, she explains how to file a small-claims court lawsuit against the embattled Japanese automaker and says she has heard from more than 500 fellow Civic owners.
The fuel economy rating that Honda advertises is set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with fuel economy numbers posted at its http://www.fueleconomy.gov website. The ratings are set according to tests that some criticize as not reflecting real-world driving.
In related fuel economy news, Hyundai will omit claims about the Elantra's ability to achieve 40 miles per gallon from its Super Bowl advertising. Last year, it was featured.
Named "Car Of The Year at the Detroit auto show last month, a number of customers and a consumer advocacy organization had complained sticker estimates of 29 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway were exaggerated.
Hyundai said the omission is unrelated to the complaint, and that the new ad is meant to give the company a chance to tout its recent awards instead o fuel economy. But Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court believes the absence of the 40-mpg claim is proof the complaints were taken seriously by the Korean automaker.
"After making a very big deal of it in earlier advertising," he said, the absence "shows that the company is hearing the hoofbeats of consumer outrage." Hyundai spokesman Jim Trainor said the group had nothing to do with the content of the ad.