Honda hybrid: False mileage claims, court rules

Honda hybrid promotions misled consumers, a small-claims court decides. But automaker says it will appeal the $9,867.19 award to an outspoken Honda hybrid owner.

Reed Saxon/AP/File
In this January file photo, Commissioner Douglas Carnahan presides over a suit in small claims court by Heather Peters, who claimed her 2006 Honda hybrid never achieved the gas mileage Honda claimed in its advertising. The court ruled in her favor Feb. 1, 2012, awarding her just under $10,000.

Except for saying that it will appeal, American Honda Motor Co. has kept from talking about its loss in a high-profile Civic hybrid lawsuit over fuel economy claims.

But now the automaker has issued a statement outlining why it believes a Torrance Small Claims Court commissioner ruled in error when he awarded Civic owner Heather Peters $9,867.19 in damages. He ruled Wednesday that Honda negligently misled Peters when it claimed the hybrid could achieve as much as 50 miles per gallon.

The award was close to the maximum $10,000 allowed in Small Claims Court that the Los Angeles resident and former attorney was seeking.

"American Honda believes that the judgment in this case is a radical and unprecedented departure from California and federal law," the automaker said in a statement.

"The court stated in error that advertising (Environmental Protection Agency) fuel economy estimates is misleading unless the advertising also explains the effects of stop-and-go driving and the use of air conditioning. In fact, federal law does not permit states or state courts to impose additional requirements of this kind," Honda said.

"Thus, a Honda advertisement that accurately referenced EPA mileage estimates, truthfully stated that a driver can get 'up to 50 mpg' and carefully noted that mileage will vary is not misleading as a matter of law,"Honda said.

As it did in the trial, Honda said the federally required window label that was on the vehicle when Peters bought the Civic said mileage would vary depending upon a number of factors including options, driving conditions, driving habits and vehicle condition.

"Those factors affect gas mileage for every car on the road today, hybrid or not. American Honda'sadvertising regarding fuel economy of Civic hybrids was accurate when the vehicles were sold and remains accurate today," Honda said.

Peters sued Honda after learning that the proposed settlement covering her 2006 vehicle would pay trial lawyers $8.5 million while Civic hybrid owners each would get as little as $100 and a rebate coupon toward the purchase of a new car.

Peters filed her case in Small Claims Court to prevent Honda from bringing its legal team to the battle. California law _ and statutes in some other states _ prohibits companies from using lawyers to mount a defense in Small Claims Court.

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