A unique small claims court case brought by a Honda hybrid car owner against the auto giant is rolling back into court Wednesday with a judge seeking more information about the claim of Heather Peters, who says her car failed to deliver promised mileage.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Commissioner Douglas Carnahan is not asking questions about the substance of the unusual lawsuit by Peters, the owner of a 2006 hybrid Honda Civic. But he wants more information on technicalities of its filing, such as the possibility of a statute-of-limitations problem.
He asked for additional legal arguments and scheduled another session of the trial in Torrance, the U.S. headquarters for Honda.
After testimony and arguments Jan. 3, he took the matter under submission and said he would have a ruling soon. But he removed it from submission in order to get clarification.
Peters, a former lawyer, has been using the Internet to try to rally other Honda hybrid owners to follow her example and go to small claims court rather than accepting a proposed class-action settlement by Honda.
She bolted from a class-action lawsuit in order to sue for $10,000 rather than agree to a proposed settlement by Honda with thousands of car owners that would give each owner $100 to $200 and a $1,000 credit on the purchase of a new Honda.
She has said that if all owners of the problem cars won in small-claims court, it could cost Honda $2 billion.
Peters has acknowledged that the statute of limitations for individual fraud suits like hers can be from one to four years in California. She said, however, that the filing of the class-action lawsuit "stops the ticking of the clock" under a legal theory known as "equitable tolling."
Experts on class-action law agreed with her interpretation.
"The clock stopped ticking when the class action was filed," said attorney Clifford Pearson.
Attorney Aaron Jacoby noted that the statute would start tolling again on the day she opted out of the class-action lawsuit, which was Dec. 8, 2011. He said the statute is four years.
Peters bought her car in April 2006 and the first class-action lawsuit over the mileage issue was filed in March.
Peters claimed the car never came close to the 50 miles per gallon (21.26 kilometers per liter) promised and that it got no more than 30 miles per gallon (12.75 kilometers per liter) when the battery began deteriorating. She still owns the car and wants to be compensated for money lost on gas, as well as punitive damages, amounting to $10,000.
Peters said she was encouraged by the fact that the commissioner was giving the case close consideration.