More than 100,000 drivers caught by red-light cameras in the Kansas City area could get partial refunds under a proposed settlement of class-action lawsuits announced Friday.
American Traffic Solutions, which has provided the red-light cameras used in Kansas City, Grandview, Excelsior Springs and Sugar Creek, along with 23 other cities across Missouri, said Friday it had agreed to resolve all pending class-action lawsuits on behalf of those communities.
While the settlement still must be approved in St. Louis County Circuit Court, attorneys for plaintiffs in several of the lawsuits said they anticipate approval.
Attorney Russ Watters, one of the plaintiff lawyers, said the settlement affects an estimated 800,000 people who paid fines for red-light tickets statewide since 2005. The refunds are estimated to be 20 percent of what people paid out, so in Kansas City, where the fines were $100, the refunds could be about $20.
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The total value of the settlement is estimated at $16 million.
Kansas City officials emphasized that this does not resolve the issues surrounding the legitimacy of the city’s red-light camera program, which was halted in November. Several appeals court rulings have concluded that most Missouri red-light ordinances violate state law because they regulate vehicle owners, while state law that governs running red lights clearly regulates drivers.
Kansas City is still waiting for the Missouri Supreme Court to decide whether and how communities can operate red-light camera programs properly in the state, and whether the violations can be treated like parking tickets or must be reported as moving violations to the state.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on that issue in the next few months, but no date has been set.
“We as a city believe the red-light camera program is legal, and that the cameras help improve public safety by reducing accidents at dangerous intersections,” Kansas City spokesman Chris Hernandez said.
Nevertheless, Hernandez cheered the settlement involving ATS, which will make the payments so cities don’t have that financial burden.
“It means we will not have to refund fines paid on red-light camera violations, and we no longer have to expend resources on the class-action lawsuit,” Hernandez said.
Watters said the exact process for sending out refunds still must be worked out by the court, but people eligible for refunds will be notified and told how to pursue the payment. The settlement applies to paid violations going back to 2005.
ATS, which is based in Tempe, Ariz., issued a statement saying the settlement was the result of extensive mediation talks. Under the terms of the agreement, ATS and the municipalities did not admit to any of the allegations in the lawsuits.
“This settlement will allow us and our customers to put these issues in the rearview mirror,” said ATS general counsel George Hittner.
“After many years of litigation, notable appellate court decisions and the uncertainty of continued litigation, this settlement puts these civil class-action claims to rest statewide and we believe offers the class members a partial refund that is fair, adequate and reasonable under the circumstances.”
Municipal Court spokeswoman Benita Jones said Friday that she did not know how many violators in Kansas City would be eligible for refunds. But she noted that in fiscal year 2013, the city collected about $2.1 million in fines from about 21,000 violators.
Kansas City began its red-light camera program in early 2009, with the first camera at 39th Street and Southwest Trafficway. For most of the time, the city had 29 cameras at 17 intersections.
The program peaked in August 2009 with more than 11,000 citations, but then dropped to 4,000 by December 2009. The annual total dropped from more than 50,000 in 2010 to 33,150 in 2012.
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