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ZELDES HAEGGQUIST & ECK NAMED
INTERIM CO-LEAD CLASS COUNSEL IN SUIT AGAINST
TOLL ROADS OVER CASHLESS TOLLS
Case Alleges Switch to Electronic System Violates Consumer Protection Laws,
Drivers’ Rights to Due Process
Holly Amaya for Zeldes Haeggquist & Eck Cell: (619) 573-7224 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. – Consumer litigation powerhouse Zeldes Haeggquist & Eck has been named interim co-lead class counsel in a class action lawsuit filed against the entities that operate and maintain Orange County’s Toll Roads, the firm announced today. ZHE will work alongside lawyers from Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca and the Lindemann Law Firm in representing a class of consumers against the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency, the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency, and the Orange County Transportation Authority, among other defendants.
Prior to granting the plaintiffs’ motion for interim co-lead class counsel, the Court considered the work the lawyers have done in identifying and investigating potential claims in the case, their experience in handling class actions, complex litigation, and other claims similar to those asserted in the matter, their knowledge of applicable law, and the resources they will commit to representing the class.
“A thorough review of the attorneys’ and the firms’ prior relevant experience shows the lawyers are amply qualified to litigate this case,” Judge Andrew J. Guilford wrote in an order granting the motion on October 24.
“We are thrilled to join the talented lawyers at Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca and the Lindemann Law Firm to represent the class of consumers in this important case,” said interim co-lead class counsel Helen Zeldes, a partner at Zeldes Haeggquist & Eck. “For years, The Toll Roads have engaged in blatant violations of drivers’ rights to due process. We look forward to representing the thousands of everyday Californians who have been subject to these illegal fines, and to vindicating their interests in court.”
In re: Toll Roads Litigation is currently pending in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. The complaint accuses the agencies tasked with financing and operating The Toll Roads of violating state consumer protection laws and depriving motorists of constitutional due process when The Toll Roads switched to an all-electronic, cashless toll payment system in 2014, and alleges misconduct in processing, reviewing, and collecting toll evasion penalties without giving drivers adequate notice and a fair opportunity for a hearing.
The San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency, the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency, and the Orange County Transportation Authority operate and maintain The Toll Roads, which are owned by the state of California and include Highways 73, 91, 133, 241, and 261 in Orange County. Historically, fees from The Toll Roads were collected at physical tollbooths. However, in May 2014, The Toll Roads converted to an all-electronic, online system in which drivers not enrolled with the TCA’s FasTrak or ExpressAccount programs must proactively pay their tolls online within five days. Owners who fail to do so are immediately charged with toll evasion, assessed a $57.50 penalty, and sent a “Notice of Toll Evasion” by mail. Those who fail to pay the penalty within 15 days are assessed an additional $42.50 delinquency penalty.
This, according to Zeldes, violates drivers’ right to due process under the state constitution and constitutes an unfair business practice in violation of state law. The plaintiffs allege that the only form of notice the defendants provide to drivers of their obligation to pay their tolls online are signs that do not warm drivers they will be photographed and cited. Zeldes says drivers can’t reasonably be expected to see, read, and understand these signs while driving, especially if they’re tourists from out of town or simply unfamiliar with the area.
“Defendants’ procedures for notifying commuters of toll violations created a ‘gotcha’ system trapping unwary, ordinary citizens into its electronic maze, subjecting them to excessive fines, liens on their vehicle registrations, and even repossession of their vehicles, all so defendants could avoid the time, cost, judicial oversight and other requirements of due process,” the drivers said in briefing filed in the matter.
The complaint also alleges that this system of toll payment discriminates against seniors and economically disadvantaged people who may not have immediate access to the Internet.
“The upshot to The Toll Roads is that we believe they’re now processing more violations per year than before they switched to the electronic system,” Zeldes said. ”The downside for everyday drivers is that they’re paying fees that are often upwards of ten times (or more) than the amount of their toll. How is that fair for consumers?”
In addition, the case targets 3M Company and BRiC-TPS LLP, entities TCA retains to help operate and maintain customer service functions for The Toll Roads. According to Zeldes, many vehicle owners have complained of difficulties navigating TCA’s system and online platform, and the complaint alleges that the agencies failed to provide adequate staff to respond to mailed, online, and telephonic inquiries.
The complaint alleges that TCA saw a 400 percent increase in calls to its customer service line and a 300 percent increase in emails after it converted to the cashless system. Between June and August 2014, the TCA answered an average 2,200 calls per day. More than 11,000 went unanswered.
“We’ve lost count of the drivers we’ve spoken with who have suffered through dropped calls, hours-long hold times, and painful conversations with inadequately trained personnel when contacting the TCA customer service center,” Zeldes said. “Owners with questions about the online payment system frequently call and email TCA repeatedly without a response, and user comments on The Toll Roads Facebook page reveal just how frustrated drivers are with this short-staffed system.
REPORTERS: For interview opportunities with Helen Zeldes or for copies of pleadings, please use the media contact above.
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