California motorists seek class action status in toll collection lawsuit
April 26, 2018
Motorists in California are seeking class action status in a lawsuit against the Orange County Transportation Authority and several toll operators in the county. The lawsuit alleges personal information was illegally used to collect unpaid tolls, fines were unconstitutionally high, and drivers were deceived by the all-electric cashless toll system.
California Highways 73, 91, 133, 241 and 261 have collected tolls at toll booths since 1995. Beginning in May 2014, those toll booths were converted to all-electronic cashless tolls. According to the lawsuit, the switch to cashless tolls unfairly penalizes unsuspecting drivers who do not have FasTrak passes or ExpressAccounts.
“The new system fails to provide drivers with proper notice (of the toll, penalties, citation, or threatened vehicle registration liens) and ambushes them with cryptic and confusing roadside warnings that they hazardously and, impracticably or impossibly, must respond to while driving,” the suit claims.
Plaintiffs argued that when toll roads used manned and unmanned toll booths, motorists were adequately warned with conspicuous signs and with the toll booths themselves. Removing the signs and booths and then replacing them with cameras and digital systems eliminated any safeguards to avoid inadvertent tolls and subsequent violations, plaintiffs claim.
Furthermore, the lawsuit claims that cashless tolls assume everyone has a computer and understands “vague and confusing roadside signage.” This is in reference to signs with an internet URL that motorist can access to pay tolls. The suit argues that this assumes that motorists will notice the sign, interpret the sign as a directive to take action, and then remember to write down the URL while driving approximately 55 mph.
“If a driver does not have a computer, does not have an account set up with the toll roads, or does not understand that they must go online to pay the toll within a set period of time, or how to do so, or does not have the precise time and address of their entry on and exit from the toll roads, a notice of violation would issue in 48 hours threatening a lien on the vehicle owner’s automobile registration, generally if not paid within 30 days,” the lawsuit says.
According to the lawsuit, penalties would amount to tens to hundreds of times the amount of the toll. Some class members of the lawsuit had their vehicles impounded over insignificant toll fees.
Many of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit were fined thousands of dollars for tolls in Orange County. One plaintiff was billed $1,700 for tolls of $100.63, a more than 1,000 percent increase. Another plaintiff drove on toll roads from November 2004 through 2015 and accrued toll fees of more than $3,542.63. After penalties were assessed, the man owed more than $55,000.
Class members are seeking damages and injunctive relief for the “coercive extra-judicial collection procedures” by the toll roads. The lawsuit claims the defendants violated the excessive fines and due process clauses of the Constitution and similar provisions in the California constitution.
A lawsuit arguing against Orange County toll collections was originally filed in February 2016. Since then, many similar lawsuits have poured in. On April 23, plaintiffs consolidated their suits and asked a federal judge to grant the case class action status.