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Small Claims Court: Consumers are Winning Against Corporations

Updated on March 5, 2012
Honda's atty (in tie) and Heather and witness in court
Honda's atty (in tie) and Heather and witness in court

Heather Peters vs. Honda

It can be called a trend and it looks like Judge Judy, the REAL TV show with REAL Small Claims Court cases and people. Entertaining? Sometimes, misery loved company. People love a David and Goliath fight between a nobody and the huge, nefarious, corporation who through false ads or defective work, stole your meager savings!

Yet, the Small Claims Court is the people's court. For a filing fee, simple paperwork, a person can file a lawsuit up to the limit against a small store, single person or giant corporation. That is what Heather Peters did when she bought a 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid, which she loved but for the gas mileage. No matter what she tried to emulate the advertised MPG rating for the model, she could ever achieve it and became angry. She then did extensive research on the car, interviewed others with the identical car who also have complained and filed similar cases in various jurisdictions.She found out that there had been a failed class action lawsuit over the exact same issue for the Honda Hybrid. Failed, because Honda only gave them $100 each and a rebate on a new Honda! That was nothing, now had each of the 200,000 Honda Civic Hybrid owners had filed in Small Claims for the maximum amount, Honda might had to pay out $40 million. This would have corrected the problem.

Despite Honda's hot shot attorneys battling with a novice-in-law lawyer in front of a judge (usually in SC courts, the judge is just another attorney appointed to preside on a rotating basis), Ms. Peters kicked butt by in lawyer-like fashion (TV shows help train) presented her evidence and argued against false advertising and claims. The judge awarded her $9,867

Tired of your telecommunications provider dropping your calls and then charging you an early termination fee ($200) when you have had enough? Go to Small Claims. That is what Mat Spaccarelli and Henry Brown did on the East and West Coast. Both had AT&T . Mark had the unlimited data plan, yet AT&T slowed down the data to his iPhone after many downloads, despite the fact he had the unlimited plan. Both men had the same suit, both won a total of almost $1600.

Small Claims court does allow real and nasty attorney's in to represent clients and allows those with no legal experience to present their case. The judge is very lenient with most proceedings especially for non-lawyers. They apply higher standards to real attorney's. However. many attorney's despise this court. Some think it is small change and a waste of their time or it is "beneath" them. The courtroom does provide all in it real entertainment, especially when they big guys get clobbered. One does wonder if most judges presiding can't help but be more sympathetic to non-lawyers presenting their case. Maybe, they reflect how it was the first time, as a new attorney, they stumbled in nerves.

At Heather's hearing, the Judge stated: "At a bare minimum Honda was aware that by the time Peters bought her car there were problems with its living up to its advertised mileage," Carnahan wrote in the judgment. He harshly criticized the company for making false promises it could not deliver. Honda then revised it stating that "the car has the capability of getting 50 MPG",

To that I say, but a VW Jetta TDI, far cheaper you will get 45 MPG on the highway. I know, I have one.


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    • perrya profile image

      perrya 5 years ago

      Yes, states vary with the limits and rules.

    • puter_dr profile image

      Mike Bouska 5 years ago from Midwest USA

      In our state, attorney's are not allowed in small claims, unless they are the claimant or defendant.

    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 5 years ago from Southern California

      Now that it is 2012, the Small Claims Courts should increase their limits to a least $100,000.

      With the cost of several hundred to thousands of dollars for an attorney in a municipal or superior court, many cases would do better in Small Claims Court.

      It eliminates many of the David and Goliath scenarios where Goliath wins most of the time.

      The Justice may not be any different in Small Claims Court but it would be cheaper and faster.

      Many cases, especially contract issues can be judged easily by showing the hands of both parties.

      Small Claims Courts are closer to Courts of Equity than of Law. There is no jury to con, and the Judge has seen a lot and knows a lot about the law and people.

      I don't care for the reality shows like Judge Judy, but I am in favor of more cases going to Small Claims Court. The word Small has to be adjusted to the times. When you are talking about lawyers fees that are greater than many of the lawsuits values, the Small Claims should have those cases in their venue.