Calif. woman beats Honda in court over mpg

A California woman's small claims court victory against Honda could have a huge impact on the global auto giant.

On Wednesday, Honda was ordered to pay Heather Peters for misleading her about the gas mileage her Civic Hybrid would achieve, and other car owners could follow in the steps of the former lawyer who took on a corporate giant, and won.

"I couldn't be happier, I couldn't be more excited," Peters said of her legal victory.

To many, the complaint that her 2006 hybrid failed to get the advertised 50 miles per gallon seemed like just another frivolous lawsuit.

After making a software updated recommended by Honda to try and improve her mileage, she says it got even worse, struggling to even achieve 30 miles per gallon.

So Peters took on the automaker in small claims court, dropping out of several class action suits that offered dissatisfied customers a couple hundred dollars each. Peters argued her own case.

"I decided to go it alone, Judge Judy-style," she tells CBS News.

A Superior Court commissioner sided with Peters, awarding her almost $10,000 on Wednesday, and citing Honda for misleading language that promised, "plenty of horsepower while still sipping fuel."

Honda will appeal the verdict, arguing fuel economy estimates posted on vehicles and used in advertising are determined by the Environmental Protection Agency, not automakers.

What shoud your real gas mileage be?

Former federal prosecutor Laurie Levenson says this $10,000 judgment could end up as a billion dollar bleed for the auto industry if everyone starts opting out of class-action suits and goes instead through the small claims court channel.

Peters is urging 200,000 other plaintiffs to do just that. She's set up a website, "don'tsettlewithhonda.org," and she's also renewing her law license so she can help those who want to take on the car company.

"It's justice in a very small place, but sometimes the little guy wins," she tells CBS News.

Click on the video player above to see Ben Tracy's full report

CBS News legal analyst Jack Ford says, however, it is still far from certain that Honda will have to actually make the payout to Peters, as the appeals process is yet to even get rolling.

"Nothing becomes any kind of a legal precedent until it gets up to an appellate court," says Ford, explaining that the small claims court decision won't be considered "binding" until it's tested by higher judicial authorities. (Watch Jack Ford's complete analysis in the video player below)

  • Ben Tracy

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Follow Us

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.

The Newsroom