A follow-up on the Honda class action lawsuit
I had recently blogged about my impressions of Heather Peters’ strategy in her litigation with Honda (scroll down to the middle). Briefly, rather than be involuntarily placed into a class action settlement that would inevitably pay her a token amount while the trial lawyers laughed all the way to the bank, Ms. Peters decided to opt out and sue Honda in small claims court over misstated mileage claims.
I lauded this as a great strategy to remove some unwarranted power from the hemorrhoids on society known as plaintiffs’ side trial lawyers, and I stand by that assessment. Of course, there is more to the story.
First off, an update on the outcome. Ms. Peters won:
A Los Angeles Superior Court commissioner has awarded Heather Peters $9,867.
Peters opted out of a class-action lawsuit so she could try to claim a higher payment for the failure of her Civic to deliver the 50 miles per gallon (21.26 kilometers per liter) that was promised when she bought it.
Informed of the decision by The Associated Press, Peters exulted, “Wow! Fantastic.”
Let’s face it. She never would have gotten that kind of payout under a class action settlement.
But is this Honda’s (and the other car companies’) fault? Or does the fault lie with the federal government?
For it is not Honda — or any other automaker — that puts the mileage numbers on the window sticker.
It is the federal government.
The government — in this case, the EPA — takes a new car, then runs it through its test loop. Mileage figures are posted on the window sticker based on these tests, which are by nature subjective. Hence the caveat, in plain standard English: Your mileage will vary. Note, not may.
This reminds me of the lawsuits a few years back over FDA-approved medication. In those cases, it was decided that FDA approval does absolutely nothing to prove the safety of a drug, despite the fact that that is exactly what FDA tests are designed to do. So if a drug is later found unsafe for any of a variety of reasons, FDA approval provides no immunity.
Again, I stand by my assessment of the small-claims strategy as an effective way to remove the upper hand from unscrupulous trial lawyers. However, I do not condone the idea of a government forcing companies to meet certain standards in all cases and then disallowing reliance on those standards as proof of anything at all. It seems as though this could be done better.
Then again, a small-claims disposition is not res judicata, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we heard more of this issue in weightier courts.