THE OWNER of a Honda hybrid has won a small claims court case in the US against the car maker which could trigger a flood of similar actions across the world.
Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Douglas Carnahan awarded Heather Peters 9,867 US dollars (£6,244), saying Honda misled her about the car's expected fuel economy.
"At a bare minimum Honda was aware ... that by the time Peters bought her car there were problems with its living up to its advertised mileage," he said in the judgment.
Ms Peters, a former lawyer from California, opted out of a class-action lawsuit to try to claim a higher payment for the failure of her Civic hybrid to deliver the 50 miles per gallon that was promised when she bought it. She is now renewing her legal licence after a 10-year lapse so she can represent other Honda owners who have the same problems.
Honda spokesman Chris Martin said the company disagreed with the judgment and planned to appeal.
Ms Peters had hoped to inspire a flood of lawsuits by the other 200,000 owners of the Civic hybrid model sold in 2006. She said if all 200,000 owners of the cars sued and won in small claims court, it could cost Honda two billion dollars (£1.2 billion). The upside of small claims court is that there are no legal fees and cases are decided quickly. Individual payments are far greater than in class-action cases.
Honda's proposed class-action settlement would give aggrieved owners 100 to 200 dollars (£63-£126) each and a 1,000-dollar (£633) credit towards the purchase of a new car. A judge in San Diego County is due to rule in March on whether to approve Honda's settlement. Members of that action have until February 11 to accept or decline the deal.
Ms Peters claimed her car never came close to the promised 50mpg and achieved no more than 30mpg when the battery began to deteriorate. She still owns the car and wanted to be compensated for money lost on petrol, as well as punitive damages, amounting to 10,000 dollars (£6,320).
In his 26-page ruling, Mr Carnahan included a long list of misleading representations by Honda that he said Ms Peters had correctly identified. Among them were that the car would use "amazingly little fuel", "provides plenty of horsepower while still sipping fuel" and that it would "save plenty of money on fuel with up to 50mpg during city driving".
Most of the damages Ms Peters was awarded were for extra money spent on fuel, both in the past and future, the cost of the car battery, and the decrease in the car's value because of its problems.