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11/5/2009California Toll Road Refunds Excessive Penalties
Orange County, California toll roads forgive excessive toll violation fines in $42 million settlement.
California motorists hit with massive fines for minor, alleged toll infractions won a settlement last month from the Orange County Transportation Agency (OCTA) and Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA). The toll road operating entities agreed to pay $1.4 million in restitution and waive $41 million in unpaid toll penalties after a lawsuit alleged the fines were "excessive" and that the denial of due process to the accused was "unconstitutional."
Over a dozen motorists sued in 2007 claiming that fines of up to $123,000 for skipping tolls were outrageous. In several cases, such as that of Stephanie and Brian Young, the violations were inadvertent. The couple racked up $580 in unpaid tolls in 2003 after the credit card linked to their toll transponder account expired. For this mistake, OCTA demanded that they pay $53,550 in fines. Similarly, Maria and Pablo Gonzalez allegedly failed to pay $60.14 in tolls and were billed $78,780.
Under the settlement agreement, motorists who received a toll evasion penalty between January 1, 2003 and October 5, 2009 may be eligible for a share of the $1.4 million restitution payment and a 29 percent discount any unpaid toll penalties. The agencies also agreed to make a number of procedural changes designed to prevent future problems.
E-mail will be used to notify toll road users of problems such as low account balances and a thirty-day notice will be given before an account suspension. The agencies promise to keep accurate records. Notice of an alleged toll violation must be mailed within ten days. Alleged toll road violations will be subject to hearings that will now be conducted in a fair manner.
"The independent administrative hearing officer retained by OCTA and TCA to conduct administrative reviews will be advised that he/she should consider any fact which may tend to show that the violation was inadvertent; that the violation was the result of an innocent mistake; that multiple violations all arose from a single inadvertent cause, such as a lost, stolen, expired credit or debit or other payment card, or bank account that was canceled by the customer; that under all circumstances, the penalties imposed will cause an undue hardship for the person requesting the review; or any other circumstance which may bear on the culpability of the person seeking review or the cumulative amount of the penalties imposed," the settlement states.
Additional details regarding the settlement may be found in a 150k PDF file at the source link below. Correction: OCTA and TCA in a statement denied that any of its actions violated the law.
Source: Avery v. Orange County Transportation Agency (California Superior Court, Orange County, 10/5/2009)
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