A Small Claims Flash Mob

When Heather Peters was dissatisfied with the proposed class-action settlement for her 2006 Honda Civic hybrid, which didn’t provide the promised fuel economy, she opted for Small Claims Court instead.

She is taking Honda Motor Co. to court this Tuesday in in Torrance, CA for $10,000, the new limit in California starting January 1, 2012, which by far exceeds the $100 and rebates she would have received from the class action. Best of all, the rules of the jurisdiction require Honda to provide an employee representative who is not a lawyer,

Small Claims Court is a special court where you can resolve disputes cheaply and quickly. Small claims rules and procedures are more simple than in other courts. The hearing is informal. There is no jury. Parties represent themselves without lawyers.
[emphasis added]

Choosing the small claims venue helps Peters fight on what she considers a more even footing, without any lawyers involved. But the real reason she is making this move is that she is hoping to inspire other 500,000 people in the proposed settlement. The Los Angeles Times states,

If she’s successful in getting others to follow her example, Peters could inspire a whole new litigation strategy in the auto industry and other businesses. Working together but filing lawsuits independently, consumers could force companies to go mano a mano with individual plaintiffs in far-flung courtrooms nationwide.

Call it a small-claims flash mob.

They indicate that this strategy has only become possible because of information sharing ability through the Internet and social media which allow for plaintiffs to compare tactics and assist in pleadings, and that mass fillings could become a trend. Peters’ website is DontSettleWithHonda.org, and her Twitter handle is DontSettleWithHonda.

A favourable outcome at trial may also convince Honda to increase its settlement amount in the class action to dissuade members from going the same route before February 11, 2012, when claimants have to make their decision.

The one small catch is that Peters is not totally inexperienced with legal proceedings. She is herself a former lawyer who let her license expire, so representing herself may not be as intimidating as it would be for others. But it could also be practicing lawyers acting in an administrative role and motivated by social justice who could coordinate similar small-claims flash mobs in the future and transform litigation strategy entirely.

A copy of Peters’ claim is available here.

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Comments

  1. How clever. I will be interested to see if it catches on. An interesting response to the recent US Supreme Court decision restricting membership in class actions.

  2. Mr. Small Claims Court

    Excellent piece. This is further proof that Small Claims Court is replete with dynamic cases of interest to the public. The increasing proliferation of social media is continuing to impact the legal world, and Small Claims Court is no exception. This is just one example. Clients are also using social media to locate defendants whose address is unknown. In addition, there has been an increase in defamation lawsuits due to ill-advised postings on the internet and blogs. (Not necessarily suggesting that any and all posts should be considered defamation, but rather the simple fact is that these types of lawsuits are being commenced. Whether or not they are meritorious depends on the facts of a particular case.)

  3. Sounds good, but in reality, it can be difficult to collect in small claims. At least by taking the settlement, you’re guaranteed some financial return. Even if you win in small claims, its difficult for the average “joe” to figure out how to make the defendant pay up.

    Note: I’m not a lawyer, but i play one on TV.