Nine-figure settlement reached in Southern California toll lawsuit
November 9, 2020
Southern California toll companies have reached a settlement with millions of motorists in a lawsuit that accuses the Transportation Corridor Agencies and 3M of violating privacy rights and assessing excessive fines.
On Nov. 4, the Transportation Corridor Agencies and 3M inked a deal worth nearly $176 million to end a lawsuit filed by a class of millions of motorists who traveled Southern California toll roads. The settlement includes nearly $41 million in cash awards and $135 million in penalty forgiveness.
The lawsuit alleges that Southern California toll companies for tolls on state Routes 73, 133, 241, 261, and the 91 Express Lanes improperly shared personally identifiable information of motorists to third parties.
Terms of the Southern California toll settlement
According to the motion for preliminary approval of settlement, class members include anyone whose personally identifiable information was provided by the Transportation Corridor Agencies to any other individual or entity between April 13, 2015, and 30 days after the court issues a preliminary approval order.
The Southern California toll operators will provide $135 million worth of penalty forgiveness to members with outstanding penalties. Those eligible will receive the lesser of the total of their outstanding penalties or $57.50. Any remaining funds will go toward those with the oldest outstanding penalties to the newest.
An additional $29 million in cash awards is also available. Affected motorists who submit a valid claim form and are not eligible for penalty forgiveness may receive a share of that award.
Furthermore, Southern California toll companies have agreed to several remedial measures:
- Increasing grace period from five to seven days to pay tolls.
- Reset all advertising opt-ins to opt-outs.
- Future limitations of transmitting personally identifiable information.
In addition to those remedies, the Transportation Corridor Agencies has undertaken significant sign-enhancement projects along the roadways in question. This includes updating and modifying nearly 600 roadway signs.
The 3M settlement is a subset of the above settlement and worth nearly $12 million in cash awards.
About 1.5 million people are in the 3M class and another 14 million people in the Transportation Corridor Agencies class.
Southern California toll lawsuit details
The recent preliminary settlement comes after five years in litigation, including many failed motions to dismiss. More than 500,000 pages of documents and 34 depositions were obtained during 40 months of discovery. One settlement session lasted from 9 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. the following morning.
Originally filed in a California state court in October 2015, the lawsuit was moved to a federal court in February 2016.
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, moving to cashless tolls unfairly penalizes unsuspecting drivers who do not have FasTrak passes or ExpressAccounts.
Plaintiffs argue that when Southern California toll roads used manned and unmanned toll booths, motorists were adequately warned with conspicuous signs and with the toll booths themselves. Consequently, replacing signs and booths with cameras and e-tolls eliminated safeguards to avoid inadvertent tolls and subsequent violations, plaintiffs claim.
Furthermore, cashless tolls assume everyone has a computer and understands “vague and confusing roadside signage,” the lawsuit claims. This is in reference to signs with an internet URL that motorist can access to pay tolls. The lawsuit 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.
A federal court approved of one of the classes in 2018. LL