7/12/2019Federal Class Action Possible Against Rental Car Traffic Tickets
Lawsuit against Avis Budget rental car over automatic payment of traffic tickets could become nationwide class action.
A federal judge in New Jersey will soon decide whether to certify a class action lawsuit against Avis Budget Group for the way the company uses American Traffic Solutions (ATS, now known as Verra Mobility) to handle traffic tickets issued to car renters. US District Judge Claire C. Cecchi had previously ruled that there is sufficient evidence that motorists are being ripped off by an "unconscionable" rental agreement that cuts off the customer's ability to challenge unjust fines.
Lawyers for renters Dawn Valli and Anton S. Dubinsky hope to take the case nationwide, with refunds for Avis or Budget renters who were accused of a toll or traffic violation and had ATS automatically bill the fine and administrative fee to the renter before the accused driver was even aware of the underlying accusation. This fully automated system is of particular benefit to ATS, which is often also the issuer of the ticket or toll violation notice. ATS/Verra Mobility is the nation's largest operator of red light cameras and speed cameras. Under the automated payment system, ATS or its competitors issue a photo ticket to Avis, as the registered owner of the rental car. Avis then pays the fine before notifying the renter about the accusation.
"By the time the notice has been issued, the class member's opportunity to contest the fine has been lost," attorney William J. Pinilis explained. "Avis Budget has paid the ticket, effectively admitting the class member's guilt... the only remaining step is defendants' collection of the amount paid from the class, along with the handling fee."
In Valli's case, the handling fee of $30 was added to the $150 photo radar ticket that ATS itself generated in Washington, DC. The ATS camera photographed the rental car that Valli and her husband picked up from Baltimore-Washington Airport on June 11, 2014. After receiving the notice of the ticket through ATS working for Avis (rather than ATS working as the District's speed camera operator), Valli tried to challenge the citation. She was told it was too late to do so.
Avis admitted in court filings that its rental contract does not disclose the amount of the handling fee, but the firm has denied any wrongdoing. The court found that it would be appropriate for a jury to decide whether any fraud was involved in the rental agreement.
"This lack of clear and comprehensive dislosure of plaintiff's liability for fines accrued against the vehicle absent prior notice and the opportunity to contest such fines is sufficient to allege defendants' intent or knowledge to conceal or omit a material fact," Judge Cecchi ruled.
The decision on whether to certify the case as a nationwide class action is expected later this year. ATS/Verra Mobility was dropped from the lawsuit in 2016.