I once drove over the Golden Gate Bridge in a rental car not knowing that it was a toll bridge and that no cash payment options were available. I slowly and stressfully tried to figure out what to do, but realized I had no option but to drive through without paying. It was an awful feeling, but then I saw a sign that said if you didn’t pay the toll, you would be billed for it. I felt better already. Then I saw what the rental company charged on my credit card for the toll: $75.00. Ouch. I wondered how the entity collecting the tolls knew I was in a rental car, and it became obvious to me that there were cameras logging the license plate numbers as vehicles passed through the open toll booths to identify those vehicles and owners who did not pay the toll. I paid the exorbitant bill and learned a valuable lesson.
In that same vein, drivers in Orange County, California filed suit against The Transportation Corridor Agencies, doing business as The Toll Roads (and others) in litigation entitled In Re Toll Roads Litigation alleging that their license plate information was taken at toll booths and then shared, along with other personally identifiable information, with third party collection agencies illegally, which caused the plaintiffs to incur damages. Plaintiffs alleged that the failure to pay one toll resulted in thousands of dollars in penalties, liens and repossessions of cars, and damaged credit. One plaintiff alleged that toll fees of approximately $3,500 ended up totaling $55,000 after adding toll evasion penalty fees.
According to the Complaint, “The conversion to a cashless system was deceptively and negligently designed and implemented by defendants to cause a radical increase in violations (and thus revenue) for defendants…Defendants have exploited the statutory scheme under which the toll roads were authorized in California…” Plaintiffs allege that their drivers’ license numbers and other personal information was illegally disclosed to third parties, including collection agencies.
Although the litigation has been pending for years, it appears that a settlement has been agreed to this week (subject to the District Court’s approval) that provides $1 million to be distributed to eligible class members, and forgiveness of up to $40 million in penalties for some eligible members. Approximately 140,000 drivers still owe tolls and penalties and their penalty will be reduced to $100 per violation. Further, it is being reported that part of the settlement includes an agreement by the defendants not to provide personally identifiable information to third party debt collectors.
Since this is a common practice for tolls, there is no doubt that we will see more class action cases involving this practice in the future.