(Reuters) - Honda Motor Co has won the reversal of a $9,867 small-claims judgment awarded to an owner who claimed the Japanese automaker fraudulently overstated the fuel economy of her Civic hybrid car.
Tuesday's decision by California Superior Court Judge Dudley Gray overturned an award to Heather Peters, who had dropped out of a class-action settlement to pursue her own lawsuit concerning her 2006 vehicle.
According to her website on the case, www.dontsettlewithhonda.org, Peters is among roughly 1,700 people who opted out of a class-action settlement covering a potential 200,000 Honda owners.
That settlement awarded owners $100 or $200 each, plus rebates if they bought new Hondas, court papers show.
In his decision, Gray said owners could not sue over Honda's use of advertising slogans that its vehicles use "amazingly little fuel" and save "plenty of money on fuel," saying such slogans are "not specific promises of anything."
He also said that while Peters' fuel economy may have been less than she expected, most other owners of her type of car come "very close" to estimates from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Peters claimed that Honda could owe more than $2 billion had all affected owners opted out of the class-action settlement and sued in small-claims court.
The court that approved the class-action settlement valued that accord at $170 million. Lawyers for the plaintiffs had estimated its value at between $87.5 million and $461.3 million.
Peters, a lawyer, represented herself in the case, and said California law does not allow her to appeal Tuesday's decision.
"Obviously, I'm disappointed," she said in a phone interview. "Honda used to be a brand that would go the extra mile on customer service."
Peters said she still has her Civic, and that it has recently been getting 25 miles per gallon. "I wish I could get rid of it, I can't afford to," she said.
Chris Martin, a spokesman for American Honda Motor Co, said the company is pleased with Gray's decision, "which affirms that Honda was truthful in its advertising of the fuel economy potential of the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid."
Peters on her website urged other Honda owners to follow her strategy. However, Honda said it has prevailed in small claims court in all but one of 17 similar cases filed this year, and is deciding whether to appeal the ruling it lost.
The case is Peters v. American Honda Motor Co, Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County, No. 11S02156.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by M.D. Golan, Bernard Orr)
By Jonathan Stempel and Ben Klayman