Honda Lawyers Go the Distance in Hybrid Mileage Small Claims Appeal

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on May 10, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Honk if you like small-claims appeals.

Lawyers for Honda have reason to toot their own horns after a judge overturned a nearly $10,000 small-claims award against the automaker, in a much-publicized case about their hybrids' fuel economy.

Heather Peters, a California hybrid owner who's also a former lawyer, sued Honda in small claims court for alleged false advertising about her hybrid's fuel economy. She won a $9,867 judgment in February, the Associated Press reports.

But Honda's lawyers have now successfully prevented Peters from taking a victory lap.

Some legal observers at first applauded Heather Peters for taking Honda to small claims court where, under California and most states' rules, attorneys are not allowed to represent parties. A company like Honda can be represented by an agent, as long as the agent is not legal counsel.

But the rules change in a small-claims appeal in California. The biggest difference: Attorneys are allowed, and they seem to have made a difference.

The judge in the Honda hybrid mileage appeal rejected Heather Peters' false advertising claims, and found that most Honda hybrid owners "achieve fuel economy very close to the EPA estimate." Peters now drives away empty-handed.

For corporate counsel, appealing a small claims judgment seems to come with little risk in California. If an appealing party loses, he'll have to pay up to $300 for the prevailing party's attorney's fees, transportation and lodging -- and an additional $2,000 if a judge feels the appeal was not in good faith.

That's chump change for most large businesses, especially when an opposing party's small-claims victory may be costly to a company's reputation.

To that end, Heather Peters says she's disappointed by the Honda hybrid appeal, but is claiming a public relations victory: "I'm still glad that I raised awareness that Honda is no longer the great brand that it used to be," the disgruntled hybrid owner told USA Today.

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard