An interesting …

December 27, 2011 § 1 Comment

An interesting law case in California where an unhappy owner of a Honda Civic hybrid wants to sue the manufacturer. The problem is that the car’s battery starts to fail, meaning the car needs to use its petrol engine more, and so fuel economy drops from claimed 50mpg to more like 30mpg.

The conventional way to get compensation is a group claim trough a class action lawsuit. That’s about the only way you can get a law firm to tackle the time-consuming and expensive process of documenting all the claims and going through the court process (and fighting the expensive company lawyers).

Trouble with that is, of course, the lawyers make a bundle, but the actual victims get SFA. In one classic case a few years ago the victims got less than five dollars each. In the Honda case the proposed settlement would have given the owners $100 cash and a $500 discount off their next Honda. The lawyers were to get $8.5 million.

But one owner, a Californian woman named Heather Peters is trying a different tack. She’s taking Honda to the Small Claims court, where lawyers are not allowed, and is asking for the maximum $10,000. And, she is using the Internet to encourage others to do the same, using a template she has prepared to guide them through the process.

This how LAT commented

If she’s successful in getting others to follow her example, Peters could inspire a whole new litigation strategy in the auto industry and other businesses. Working together but filing lawsuits independently, consumers could force companies to go mano a mano with individual plaintiffs in far-flung courtrooms nationwide.

Call it a small-claims flash mob.

“This could create a lot of problems in the industry,” said Aaron Jacoby, the Los Angeles defense attorney who heads the automotive industry group at the Arent Fox law firm.

Attorneys said social networking and the Internet make it easier for groups of claimants to find one another and map out tactics such as the one Peters has devised.

Apartment dwellers for years have used a similar strategy, banding together to file individual cases against the same landlord in Small Claims Court.

“You might have 10 plaintiffs suing the same defendant, but with different claims, and requesting that all the cases be heard at the same time,” said Nicholas Aquino, Small Claims Court advisory program manager for the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs.

He said mass filings could become a trend.

“Governments are cutting back on everything, including consumer protection. The Small Claims Court is the forum of last resort for the everyday person,” Aquino said. “It gives a consumer an opportunity to have an issue addressed in court.”


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