SAN DIEGO -- Attorneys general in California and four other states said Wednesday that they won't oppose a class-action settlement between Honda Motor Co. and owners of its hybrid cars over inflated claims of fuel efficiency.
The five states had asked a judge for more time to consider after Honda owner Heather Peters won $9,867 in a California small claims court this month – much more than the couple hundred dollars cash that the settlement offers. The judge reluctantly granted a two-week extension for them to declare objections.
Attorneys general in California, Iowa, Massachusetts, Texas and Washington said just hours before the extended deadline that they will sit on the sidelines. Dan Sytman, a spokesman for Washington's attorney general, said his office felt it had nothing to add to objections already raised by others.
"Our filing of a brief would not bring any new argument or theory to the court's attention. The fact that we have not filed anything in this case does not mean we approve or disapprove the proposed settlement," he said.
California's attorney general's office, which took a leading role among the five states, gave no explanation in a one-sentence statement.
Peters, who has been working full-time to derail the class-action settlement, said she was disappointed and speculated that lack of resources guided the states' decisions.
"The (attorneys general) would certainly have sway with the court, but they would be adding their voice to a chorus that is already quite loud," she said.
The development sets the stage for a hearing March 16 for San Diego Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor to accept or reject the agreement between the Japanese automaker and the owners of nearly 200,000 Civic hybrids, spanning from the 2003 to 2009 model years.
Critics of the settlement say payments to consumers are too small and payments to plaintiffs' attorneys – more than $8 million – are too high. The settlement would give aggrieved owners $100 to $200 each and up to $1,000 credit toward purchase of another car.
"The high proposed attorney fee award ... raises a suspicion of bad faith and collusion," Honda owner Peter Fredman of Berkeley, a plaintiffs' attorney in class action lawsuits himself, wrote to the court.
American Honda Motor Co., the Japanese automaker's U.S. subsidiary, has said the settlement is a "very good resolution."
The plaintiffs' attorneys said in a court filing this month that about 1,700 eligible owners opted out of the class-action settlement. Alan Mansfield, one of the attorneys, said duplicates were later discovered, reducing the number of opt-outs to less than 1,500.