March 16 (Bloomberg) -– Honda Motor Co.’s class-action settlement with hybrid owners over allegations the automaker overstated gas mileage won approval from a California state judge in San Diego over objections that it was unfair.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor said the settlement is fair and discounted claims by lawyers for Honda Civic hybrid owners that plaintiffs’ lawyers colluded with the Tokyo-based company, according to a written ruling issued today.
“Class counsel has a significant track record of successful representation of plaintiffs in class actions over many years,” Taylor wrote. “This isn’t their first rodeo. They have pursued these claims for five years, plus.”
The settlement involves Civic hybrid models produced from 2003 to 2009, which the owners claimed don’t get as much as 50 miles per gallon fuel economy as advertised by Tokyo-based Honda.
Without admitting liability, Honda agreed to pay $100 to $200 in cash to individual owners and give them a $1,000 credit toward the purchase of a new Honda, among other benefits, depending on the circumstances of each case. The accord resolves complaints filed by lawyers representing about 200,000 Civic hybrid owners across the U.S. against between American Honda Motor Co. The cases were consolidated in San Diego.
Taylor estimated the value of the settlement at $170 million, according to a tentative ruling he issued earlier. The judge also said that the attorneys in the case valued the settlement from a low figure of $87.5 million to a high of $461.3 million in their court filings.
During a hearing today, several attorneys representing Honda owners voiced concerns about the fairness and thoroughness of the settlement. Attorney Thomas Loeser of Seattle told the judge that owners who have encountered battery problems in the hybrids aren’t being fairly compensated and their safety is at issue.
“If this is approved people are going to get hurt and people are going to die,” he said.
The judge told Loeser he disagreed.
“I cannot agree that people are going to get hurt or die,” Taylor said. “There is not one single shred of evidence of that occurring.”
Chris Martin, a U.S. spokesman for Honda, said in a statement today that the company’s is pleased with the court’s approval of the settlement “as a fair resolution for our customers that demonstrates our desire to preserve our good relationship with Civic Hybrid owners who chose to participate in this class action.”
Martin said Honda owners who file settlement claims are still entitled to pursue arbitration against the company with no limit on damages.
Honda, in its court filings, denied claims by some attorneys that the proposed settlement is unfair and that it provides excessive attorney fees.
The judge today approved attorney fees of $8.1 million.
California and four other states declined last month to file objections to the proposed settlement.
Martin said today that since January, Honda has won five out of six cases in which hybrid owners dissatisfied with mileage pursued damages in small claims court, where plaintiffs and defendants represent themselves.
One woman who opted out of the class-action settlement, Heather Peters, said Feb. 1 that she won $9,867 from Honda in small claims court in Los Angeles. Honda said it is appealing that judgment.
The class action case is Lockabey v. American Honda Motor Co., 37-2010-00087755, California Superior Court (San Diego).
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