Toll roads agree to $42 million settlement for penalties
“Plaintiffs in class-action suit had alleged that penalties for unpaid tolls were excessive.”
Orange County’s toll road agencies have agreed to waive $41 million in commuter penalties and pay $1.4 million in restitution to settle a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of people who say they were charged excessive penalties for toll violations.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of people like Sharon Willis of Corona. Willis, a court reporter at Orange County Superior Court, and her husband, Don, an Orange County Deputy Sheriff, both travel the 91 Express Lanes on their workday commutes.
In a declaration filed in the case, Sharon Willis said her elderly mother unknowingly ran up $32 in unpaid tolls on the 91. Willis said she had tried to add her mother’s Camry to the couple’s FasTrak account when she moved in with them, but apparently the Camry was never added.
About three years later, the Willises received a letter from the Orange County Transportation Authority saying they owed $2,700 in penalties for the unpaid tolls. It was the first they had heard of the unpaid tolls, Sharon Willis said.
Willis’ offer to pay the tolls incurred by her mother was rebuffed and a lawyer for an outside collections firm hired by OCTA vowed to go after her for the full $2,700, she said.
The class-action settlement is open to anyone who was assessed a toll-evasion penalty during a six-year period by either the OCTA or the Transportation Corridor Agencies, which oversees the 73, 133, 241 and 261 toll roads. Potentially, tens of thousands of people are eligible to participate, attorneys for the plaintiffs have said.
The periods covered by the settlement are from May 31, 2003, to Oct. 5, 2009, for the OCTA, and between Jan. 1, 2003, to Oct. 5, 2009, for the TCA. The settlement class also includes people who were assessed escalated penalties after May 31, 2003, by the OCTA for violations that occurred before that date.
People who are eligible for inclusion in the settlement but who want to opt out must do so by Jan. 19, 2010. For details on the settlement and how to opt out or object, go to http://www.averytollsettlement.com/index.htm and read the Frequently Asked Questions.
Judge Ronald Bauer of Orange County Superior Court is scheduled to hold a hearing on whether to approve the settlement on Feb. 16, 2010. Anyone who was assessed $1,000 in tolls and penalties, and paid some amount, is eligible for restitution.
OCTA and TCA have also agreed to waive $41 million, or 29 percent, of unpaid toll evasion penalties for class members who were assessed more than $1,000 in tolls and penalties during the applicable periods. OCTA will waive about $32 million in such penalties and TCA will waive about $9 million, the notice of settlement shows.
OCTA and the TCA also agreed to reduce penalties for future violations and change their procedures for collecting penalties, and to pay legal fees sought by plaintiffs’ attorneys.
In a proposed statement to be released when the settlement is approved, OCTA and TCA maintain that the procedures under which toll-violation penalties were assessed and enforced complied with applicable laws.
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