Judge signs off on Honda Civic settlement

John O'Brien Mar. 19, 2012, 12:50pm


SAN DIEGO (Legal Newsline) - A California state judge has approved a class action settlement that will give consumers up to $200 while awarding attorneys more than $8 million.

Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor approved the settlement Friday, two weeks after five state attorneys general decided not to intervene in the case. Insurance Journal reported the settlement Monday.

"No doubt plaintiffs would have loved to have gotten more. Certainly their counsel had every incentive to get as much as possible," Taylor wrote, according to the report.

"Honda undoubtedly has many arrows left in its quiver, and certainly would have preferred to pay nothing."

The case before Taylor was one of five class actions brought over the fuel efficiency of Honda Civic Hybrids. Attorneys will receive $8.5 million to settle all five.

A stay had been placed on the cases while the San Diego court reviewed the proposed settlement. The attorneys general who contemplated intervening were California's Kamala Harris, Iowa's Tom Miller, Massachusetts' Martha Coakley, Texas' Greg Abbott and Washington's Rob McKenna.

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.

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.

Of the five separate class actions, those three firms are counsel for the plaintiffs in four of them - three in federal courts and one in Los Angeles.

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.

The settlement gives consumers between $100 and $200 and a rebate on the purchase of another Honda.

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 jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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