LOS ANGELES — An unusual small claims lawsuit by a Honda hybrid owner took another complicated turn Wednesday with additional arguments that prompted a commissioner to delay a ruling for more consideration.
Superior Court Commissioner Douglas Carnahan said he was aware of "a media blitz on this case," and wanted to be clear on all of the issues raised by Honda owner Heather Peters.
Peters told the court she was anxious to get the matter resolved and did not want to waste the court's time.
"You're not wasting the court's time," said Carnahan. "These are serious issues affecting more people than just you."
Honda representative Neil Schmidt showed up for the hearing with a stack of envelopes that the commissioner estimated as 8 inches high, purportedly containing letters from satisfied Honda owners.
Carnahan declined to open the envelopes, saying it would just prolong the hearing that has already gone on longer than most small claims court actions.
Peters said she did not want to see the letters and had submitted her own testimonials from those who are dissatisfied with the cars.
"I'll stipulate there are people who love their cars," she said as she pointed to the audience where six other disappointed Honda owners were seated, including a woman who drove from Sacramento to attend the hearing.
The woman, Kathy Wood, of Elk Grove said outside court, "I drove from Sacramento because if she can do all this that's the least I can do."
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 accept a proposed class-action settlement by Honda.
Peters bought her car in April 2006.
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.
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
Wood said she is planning to opt out of a class-action suit.
"I'm never buying a Honda again," Wood said.
Schmidt presented charts that he said showed that even with the decreased mileage, Peters benefited from having the car. She called his calculations "laughable."
"If Honda snuck into my garage and siphoned gas out of my car, that's a crime," Peters told the commissioner. "That's what they're doing."
Honda also sent Darren Johnson, its manager in charge of certifications, to explain how Honda tests its vehicles in relation to tests by the environmental protection agency.
Schmidt claimed there was no fraud and said "we're being sued for telling the truth and she actually benefited from having the hybrid."
Carnahan said he was taking the matter under submission and would have a ruling probably next week or at least before the Feb. 11 deadline for people to opt out of the class action case.
Outside court Peters said, "I feel great. I did my best. However he decides it I'm happy I did it. It's brought to light a lot of background stuff that people should know.
"I'm the trailblazer here," she said, "and everyone else can follow what I did."