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Hybrid vehicles: Judge approves Honda settlement

Hybrid vehicles settlement between Honda and owners of Honda hybrid vehicles gets judge's OK, despite a $9,900 small claims award for inflated mileage claims for a Honda hybrid vehicle. 

By Elliot SpagatAssociated Press / March 17, 2012

Heather Peters, who won in small claims court against Honda last month, speaks in court Friday in San Diego against a proposed hybrid vehicles settlement. The deal gives owners of Honda Civic hybrids up to $200 cash over claims that the cars' fuel economy was inflated.

Gregory Bull/AP

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SAN DIEGO

A judge approved a settlement Friday to give owners of Honda Civic hybrids up to $200 each over claims that the fuel economy of the cars was inflated, casting aside arguments that a motorist's victory in small claims court entitled other owners to a larger award.

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Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor said the essence of a settlement is compromise.

"No doubt plaintiffs would have loved to have gotten more. Certainly their counsel had every incentive to get as much as possible," he said. "Honda undoubtedly has many arrows left in its quiver, and certainly would have preferred to pay nothing."

Taylor listened to nearly two hours of arguments before ruling.

The case gained widespread attention after a Los Angeles woman won a $9,867 judgment last month against Honda in small claims court — a ruling that is under appeal by the carmaker. Plaintiff Heather Peters opted out of the class action so she could try to claim a larger damage award for her the failure of her 2006 Civic to deliver the 50 mpg (21.26 kpl) that was promised.

The judge said Peters' legal victory carried little weight.

Peters, who recently reinstated her law license, said Friday that she was disappointed but not surprised at Taylor's ruling.

The judge got testy with her last month when she tried to address him at a hearing, saying he had not yet received confirmation that her license was renewed. His patience also wore thin when California and four other states briefly considered objecting to the settlement after Peters' victory.

The judge was visibly irritated with Peters again Friday when she complained about difficulty reviewing documents under the court's outdated paper filing system.

"Do you really want me to get into that, Ms. Peters?" the judge asked.

The judge went on to say Peters recently "disrupted" his courtroom to gain access to the docket. To accommodate her, he said he ordered that a copy of the voluminous documents be made available for public viewing.

Peters told reporters after the hearing that she was focused on arguing Honda's appeal of her small-claims award on April 13.

"I'm certainly disappointed, but we're proud to have stood up," she said.

The settlement pays owners of about 200,000 Honda Civics from model years 2003 to 2009 between $100 and $200, plus a rebate toward the purchase of a new Honda. Owners of models from 2006 to 2008 get the larger amount due to additional claims over battery defects.

The judge has valued the settlement at $170 million. Attorneys for the plaintiffs have pegged the value between $87.5 million and $461.3 million, depending largely on how many people accept rebates of up to $1,500.

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