SAN DIEGO (Legal Newsline) - Attorneys hoping to snag $8.5 million in fees from class action lawsuits against Honda that would result in coupons for affected customers continue to experience trouble.
Wednesday, it was announced that a San Diego judge has given five state attorneys general more time to decide if they would like to object to the proposed settlement. The lawsuits were filed over what plaintiffs say was a misrepresentation of fuel efficiency in 2006-08 Honda Civic Hybrids.
Seattle firm Hagens Berman, which is representing class members who are objecting to the settlement, says consumers would be paid less than 3 percent of the expected cost to replace faulty hybrid batteries. Each owner would receive $100 and a coupon good only for the purchase of a new Honda or Acura.
"This settlement simply provides no meaningful benefit to thousands of Civic Hybrid owners whose cars are equipped with defective hybrid drive systems," said Thomas Loeser, of Hagens Berman.
Attorneys general Kamala Harris of California, Tom Miller of Iowa, Martha Coakley of Massachusetts, Greg Abbott of Texas and Rob McKenna of Washington have asked San Diego County Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor to give them until Feb. 29 to decide if they want to object.
In December 2009, 25 state AGs and Ted Frank's Center for Class Action Fairness objected to a proposed settlement in one of the Honda cases that would've given attorneys $3 million, even though, the AGs wrote, the plaintiffs' expert conceded that only 580 consumers of the 158,639 class members would receive any cash benefit.
Three firms filed the suit against Honda in March 2007 -- Cuneo Gilbert and LaDuca of Washington, Blecher and Collins of Los Angeles and Chimicles & Tikellis of Haverford, Pa. The settlement was rejected.
There are five separate class actions over the Civic Hybrid's fuel efficiency. Those three firms are counsel for the plaintiffs in four of them - three in federal courts and one in Los Angeles. The cases are stayed until a determination on the proposed settlement.
The firms in the fifth case, the San Diego case, are Doyle Lowther, the Consumer Law Group of California and the Law Offices of Michael Lindsey.
Heather Peters made headlines this year by taking her case against Honda to small claims court in Los Angeles, bypassing any attorneys fees. She won nearly $10,000 in her case, three times the estimated cost to replace the battery, according to Hagens Berman.
Peters has started a website - dontsettlewithHonda.org. On it is a petition urging every attorney general to take action against the settlement.
Miller and Abbott previously signed the brief objecting to the 2009 settlement. Harris' predecessor Jerry Brown did, but McKenna and Coakley did not.
"(C)ourts should embark upon enhanced scrutiny of coupon settlements such as this one," the 2009 objection said.
"Additionally, the absence of objections does not necessarily indicate that the settlement is acceptable. Filing an objection to the settlement invokes substantial transaction costs involving an investment of time, money, and other resources.
"In the case at bar, the settlement does not withstand such scrutiny. The coupons offered to consumers are of limited value: they are worth only a fraction of the price of the original car, are valid only on select cars, and have other limitations."
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at email@example.com.