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Honda Wins Reversal of Small-Claims Loss Over Hybrid Mileage

Honda Motor Co. won the reversal of a $9,867 small-claims-court loss to a Californian who dropped out of a class-action lawsuit and pursued her own claim that the company overstated the fuel mileage of its Civic Hybrid.

California state Judge Dudley W. Gray II in Torrance, in Los Angeles County, said in a ruling today that Tokyo-based Honda’s fuel-economy ratings were in compliance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirements and that the ratings are for comparison among vehicles without taking into account factors that can affect mileage at a given moment.

“Defendant’s use of advertising slogans such as ‘sipping fuel,’ ‘amazingly little fuel’ and ‘saves plenty of money on fuel’ -- the court rules that these are non-actionable sales puffery,” the judge said. “They are not specific promises of anything.”

Heather Peters had rejected the class-action settlement, which paid car owners $100 or $200 depending on the model and as much as $1,500 credit toward a new vehicle. Peters and plaintiffs in the larger suit challenged the company’s claim that the car gets 50 miles a gallon of fuel.

‘Still Glad’

“Of course I’m disappointed, but I’m still glad that I raised awareness that Honda is no longer the great brand that it used to be,” Peters said in an e-mail. “They used to go the extra mile in customer service, now the go the extra mile fighting customers in court.”

A small-claims judge in February agreed with Peters that Honda’s advertising misrepresented the mileage of her 2006 Civic Hybrid and awarded her damages. He rejected Honda’s claims that it’s stuck with the estimate provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

About 1,700 Honda owners have opted out of the class-action settlement, according to Peters’s website about the case.

“Honda is pleased with the court’s decision, which affirms that Honda was truthful in its advertising of the fuel economy potential of the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid,” Chris Martin, a spokesman for American Honda Motor Co., said in an e-mailed statement. “We are thankful for the support we received from the many satisfied Civic Hybrid owners who expressed their support throughout the legal process.”

Seventeen similar small-claims cases by Civic Hybrid owners have been heard since January, and Honda has prevailed in 16 of them, Martin said in the statement.

An appeal in a California small-claims court is conducted as a full trial, as if the earlier one hadn’t taken place. Decisions in most appeals in U.S. courts are based on whether the trial judge committed one or more legal errors.

The case is Peters v. America Honda Motor Co., SBA 11S02156, California Superior Court, Los Angeles County, Southwest District, Small Claims Division (Torrance).

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