About 200,000 people in the Kansas City area who paid red-light camera fines since 2009 can now apply for partial refunds.
Those individuals are part of a proposed settlement of a class action lawsuit against American Traffic Solutions, the company that for years has operated red-light cameras in 27 cities throughout Missouri, including Kansas City, Grandview, Excelsior Springs and Sugar Creek.
A claims administrator has recently sent out nearly 900,000 postcard notices to people who paid fines for red-light violations in Missouri between 2005 and November 2014. American Traffic Solutions estimated about a quarter of those notices went to people in the Kansas City metro area.
The postcards alert people that they can recover cash payment of 20 percent of any fine paid and provide information to apply for a refund under the settlement. People can also object to the settlement.
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A response is due by Feb. 28, and a court hearing is scheduled March 13 to consider final settlement approval.
Ironically, those whose Kansas City cases were still pending last year or who never paid their fines for violations are now off the hook.
But a judge’s approval would resolve class action lawsuits filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court that argued the red-light camera programs in Missouri conflicted with state law. American Traffic Solutions denied the allegations but agreed to pay the partial refunds to resolve all pending claims on behalf of the 27 communities. The total value of the settlement has been estimated at $16 million.
American Traffic Solutions and attorneys for the plaintiffs declined to comment separately about the proposed settlement but issued a joint statement answering questions from The Kansas City Star. They said the 20 percent refund on the fines was arrived at through negotiation.
“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,” the statement said. “This is especially true in light of the court rulings that significantly limit the class members’ ability to recover a refund for fines that have been paid.”
George Heymach of Kansas City received notice about a week ago but said it was different from the huge packet of information he’s gotten when he was a claimant in other class action lawsuits.
“It literally was a postcard,” Heymach said. “On the front it has an ID number, which you of course ignore.”
But Heymach said that when he actually read the postcard more closely, it directed him to a website, www.MORLCEnforcement.com, where he put in his ID number and was able to readily apply for the refund.
“Once I decided to read the card, and I went to the website, it was frankly very straightforward,” he said.
He said he’s not holding his breath about receiving the refund because he knows these types of cases can take a long time to resolve. And in this case, the 20 percent payment would only equate to $20 because Kansas City’s fines were $100.
Still, he considers it “found money,” especially because he didn’t have a quarrel with Kansas City’s red-light program, even though he had one violation and one of his children had a violation.
He said he is a safe driver and doesn’t run red lights, but tripped a camera on Southwest Trafficway in the early years of Kansas City’s red-light camera program. He said his family’s two violations made them drive even more safely and cautiously.
“I think it’s a good program,” he said.
That’s been Kansas City’s position as well since the program began in 2009, but it was halted in November 2013 because of conflicting appeals court rulings and uncertainty over whether and how communities could legally operate red-light camera programs under state law.
Two key lingering questions: Whether it was appropriate to presume the vehicle’s owner was the driver, and whether the city programs can be enforced because they don’t treat the red-light camera tickets as moving violations with points against a person’s driver’s license.
Kansas City and other cities are awaiting a Missouri Supreme Court ruling this year to provide clear guidance on how they can proceed.
But this settlement, if approved, would resolve the issue of refunds on prior fines paid.
As for those who did not pay their fines in Kansas City Municipal Court, they are now free and clear.
City Prosecutor Keith Ludwig said Wednesday that after the city suspended its red-light camera program in November 2013, many violations were still pending in the court. All those cases were moved to a Dec. 31, 2014, docket in hopes the city would have legal clarity by then.
But the red-light camera program remains in legal limbo, so Ludwig said the decision was made to just dismiss all those cases.
“As a practical matter, it’s such a delay that it’s not fair to keep those people hanging on,” Ludwig said, adding that prior violations in which people had simply failed to pay were also dismissed.
For people who paid a fine and want a partial refund, they should have received a postcard, mailed to their last known address. More information is available at 1-866-681-9151.
People who object can exclude themselves from the settlement if they want to preserve their right to sue, but must do so by Feb. 28.