Who Says You Can't Win Big in Small Claims Court?
Many people when they think of small claims court think of the people's court. Small claims court offers ordinary people the chance to resolve small disputes at a low cost and without a lot of complication. Generally, the parties are not represented by lawyers and the rules of evidence and procedure are nonexistent.
But, when you think class action lawsuit, you don't think small claims court, right? Well, not Heather Peters who after opting out of a class action lawsuit against Honda sued the motor car company in small claims court and won. Peters, a non-practicing attorney, decided to take her chances in small claims court after learning that class members of the lawsuit would receive between $100 and $200 each and a $1,000 credit toward the purchase of a new car.
In a 26 page decision, the judge ruled in favor of Peters and awarded her $9,867 in damages. The judge included in his decision numerous misleading statements made by Honda including that the Honda Civic hybrid would "use amazingly little fuel," it "provided plenty of horsepower while still sipping fuel," and that it would "save plenty of money on fuel with up to 50 mpg during city driving."
While Honda intends to appeal the decision, Peters has decided to renew her legal license so she can represent other Honda Civic owners who have had the same problems as her. It is Peters' hope that she will inspire the other 200,000 people whose Honda Civic hybrids are covered by the class action proposed settlement to sue in small claims court. If all 200,000 owners sued and won in small claims court, it could cost Honda $2 billion. Now that would be a BIG collective victory in small claims court!
While small claims court often levels out the playing field between individuals and corporations, claims brought in small claims court should be taken seriously even though the dollar value is small. For example, in Florida, if you are a defendant and fail to appear at the first pretrial conference, a default judgment can be entered against you. The judgment may or may not be overturned but it will inevitably cost considerably more in time and potential damages as opposed to if it is dealt with in an appropriate manner when it is first received.
The lesson learned is that a lawsuit no matter how small should be treated carefully to minimize costs and potential damages.