Huge E-ZPass Express Lane fines being challenged in court
There could soon be a legal solution for E-ZPass drivers hit with outrageous fines. FOX 5 has been covering the story of drivers getting hit with thousands of dollars in fines for missing tolls on the Express Lanes.
The company that owns and operates the 495 Express Lanes, Transurban, had its first big loss in circuit court in Fairfax County on Tuesday.
A judge ruled against Transurban because the company waited past the one-year statute of limitations to sue a driver.
That driver, Toni Cooley, was fined over $10,000 for missing $11 in tolls because her E-ZPass transponder wasn't properly affixed to her windshield.
The missed tolls were over five days in November 2012. Transurban sued her in December 2013.
Cooley's attorney, Marla Diaz, explained how E-ZPass drivers who are in the same situation can now use the judge's opinion for themselves.
"You want to take a look at the date that it was actually filed with the court," she said. "That's on the face of the summons. And you want to see if that date is more than a year beyond when the offense that they alleged you committed occurred. If that happens, then you can go to court, and when you are in court, you can make an argument to the judge that it was an untimely filed summons and therefore it should be dismissed."
Transurban was back in the hot seat on Wednesday at district court in Fairfax County.
In this case, Lisa Marie Comras was sued for more than $10,000 by Transurban for a few dollars in missed tolls.
During her daily commute in 2012, her transponder didn't work for five days for an unknown reason during her daily commute. She lost in court and she can't afford the judgment, so she has lost her Virginia driver's license.
"How it can balloon $14 to $10,000, how they're allowed to get away with this, to me, it's no pun intended -- highway robbery," she said.
Her lawyer, David Bernhard is trying to get her judgment voided because Transurban had not registered its legal company name with the court until last month.
"It's not a technicality," said Bernhard. "The general assembly specifically prohibits judgments in favor of fictitious entitles for good reason. If somebody sues you in a name that doesn't exist, who is the judgement in favor of?"
Comras is hopeful that that this ruling will help everyone who accidentally misses tolls and faces massive fines.
"That would be like them suing under the name of Mickey Mouse and then I pay Mickey Mouse, but they're not Mickey Mouse," she said.
Bernhard said if the judge rules in Comras' favor, then every driver who has paid out from a lawsuit from Transurban might get another day in court.
"It is just by plain logic and the statute they should void these judgments and give people their money back," said Bernhard.
At the end of the day, Judge Richard Gardiner said this issue of the registered name of Transurban is significant and deserving of the court's time. He will issue his ruling within two weeks.
Transurban sent FOX 5 this statement:
"As the court's rulings about the enforcement process have evolved over the last few months, we will adjust our procedures to ensure we can continue to pursue unpaid toll violators in line with the court's latest guidance. Our primary focus will continue to be educating customers on how to avoid unpaid tolls. While less than 0.3% of all 495 Express Lanes travelers end up in court, we'll continue to provide travelers opportunities to pay unpaid tolls at a low cost. And we remind all of our customers to take care to ensure they're using E-ZPass properly. We have E-ZPass tips online at ExpressLanes.com to help customers and we encourage any traveler to contact us right away if they have received an invoice."
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