When California resident Heather Peters dragged American Honda Motor Company to small claims court over what she felt was the disappointingly low gas-mileage of her Civic hybrid, many observers were surprised. Take a big company to court? By yourself? But when Peters, a former lawyer, was awarded $9,867 in damages earlier this year, people really took notice.
The victory was short-lived: Honda filed an appeal, and Superior Court Judge Dudley W. Gray II overturned the initial judgment.
But the case has pushed small claims courts into the spotlight.
Suing a company via small claims court is a drastic step, but the practice could become more common. Consumer advocates warn that companies’ growing use of binding arbitration clauses limits customers’ ability to address grievances via class-action litigation – often leaving small claims court the most viable alternative.
Over the years, an intrepid handful of wronged consumers have prevailed over big companies in small claims lawsuits. These tenacious people won both reimbursement and the satisfaction of getting a fair hearing against formidable opponents.