Honda Owner's Win In Small Claims Court Could Start A Trend

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What happens next now that Heather Peters has won her case? She's the California woman who took Honda to small claims court because her hybrid Civic wasn't getting as the 50 miles per gallon she'd been promised.

Well, she may never collect the $9,867 she was awarded. Honda has said it will appeal the decision — meaning, as we've said before, that the case will move to a higher court where Honda can bring in its high-priced attorneys (in California, lawyers aren't allowed to represent clients in small claims court).

But, as Los Angeles Times reporter Jerry Hirsch explained to All Things Considered co-host Melissa Block earlier this afternoon, Peters' strategy of taking a big corporation to small claims court rather than taking part in a class action suit "could catch on with other people who have complaints about big companies and their products. About a third of the states have rules where you're not allowed to bring an attorney into small claims court and that really evens the playing field."

Just the chance to drag a corporate Goliath into court may inspire other Davids. Hirsch says he knows of several Honda owners in California who may follow Peters' example.

There's also the possibility, Hirsch says, that down the road cases such as Peters' might force automakers to acknowledge that the Environmental Protection Agency's official vehicle mileage estimates don't always make sense. Los Angeles' traffic, he points out, is much different than other cities.'

Much more from his conversation with Melissa is due on today's All Things Considered. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show.

So, how to follow Peters' example? Jalopnik.com offers a guide to "how you can sue an automaker in small claims court and win," with Peters as its source. It includes a link to key documents, a sample letter to send to the corporation you have a problem with, a map showing "maximum small claims dollar amounts by state" and this wonderful advice:

"Watch Several Episodes of Judge Judy (or similar): Seriously. The experience of going through small claims is pretty much exactly that, except the judges aren't as sassy. Watch a few of those and you will have a good idea of what to expect on your court day."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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