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San Diego judge approves Honda settlement over hybrid fuel economy claims
SAN DIEGO (AP) ' A judge approved a settlement Friday to give owners of Honda Civic hybrids up to $200 each over claims that the fuel economy of the cars was inflated.
In making the ruling. Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor cast aside arguments that a motorist's victory in small claims court entitled other owners to a larger award.
Taylor said the essence of a settlement is compromise.
"No doubt plaintiffs would have loved to have gotten more. Certainly their counsel had every incentive to get as much as possible," he said. "Honda undoubtedly has many arrows left in its quiver, and certainly would have preferred to pay nothing."
Taylor listened to nearly two hours of arguments before issuing the final ruling.
The case gained widespread attention after a Los Angeles woman won a $9,867 judgment last month against Honda in small claims court ' a ruling the carmaker vowed to appeal. Plaintiff Heather Peters opted out of the class action so she could try to claim a larger damage award for her the failure of her 2006 Civic to deliver the 50 mpg that was promised.
The judge said Peters' legal victory carried little weight.
Peters, who recently reinstated her law license, said Friday that she was disappointed but not surprised at the ruling by Taylor.
The judge got testy with her last month when she tried to address him at a hearing, saying he had not yet received confirmation that her license was renewed.
His patience also wore thin when California and four other states briefly considered objecting to the settlement after Peters' victory.
The judge was visibly irritated with Peters again Friday when she complained about difficulty reviewing documents under the court's paper filing system.
"Do you really want me to get into that, Ms. Peters?" the judge asked.
Peters told reporters after the hearing that she was focused on arguing Honda's appeal of her small-claims award on April 13.
"I'm certainly disappointed, but we're proud to have stood up," she said.
The settlement pays owners of about 200,000 Honda Civics from model years 2003 to 2009 between $100 and $200, plus a rebate toward the purchase of a new Honda. Owners of models from 2006 to 2008 get the larger amount due to additional claims over battery defects.
The judge has valued the settlement at $170 million. Attorneys for the plaintiffs have pegged the value between $87.5 million and $461.3 million, depending largely on how many people accept rebates of up to $1,500.
The judge also approved more than $8 million in plaintiffs' attorney fees in his 43-page final ruling.
More than 1,700 Honda owners opted out of the settlement. Some believed consumers should be paid more. Others complained the attorney fees were too high.
Kathy Proya of Toronto, Ohio, called the settlement a "travesty of justice," saying it enriches lawyers while only covering a fraction of the loss from the 208,000 miles she logged on her 2005 Civic. Christian Matthews of El Cerrito, Calif., equated Honda Motor Co. to "a con man, swindler or a thief."
Still, the judge noted, many objectors were sympathetic to the automaker. Clancy Hughes, a physician in Homer, Alaska, said he was a satisfied customer.
American Honda Motor Co., the Japanese automaker's U.S. subsidiary, can back out of the agreement if more than 1,500 owners opt out, but it has given no indication that it will.
Chris Martin, a Honda spokesman, said Friday the settlement was a good resolution.