Red Light Camera Class Action Lawsuit Filed Wednesday
RLC Lawsuits Have Poor Record Of Success In Illinois
Mere minutes before the City Council was posed to vote and pass an ordinance which will eventually make Chicago the speed camera capital of the U.S., a lawyer for Simmons Law Firm was filing a class action lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County attacking the legality of the city’s red light camera program.
This lawsuit, as reported in the Chicago Sun-Times, contends that Chicago did not have legal authority to issue red light camera tickets back in 2003 when the city initiated its RLC program.
It was only after 2006, when the Illinois General Assembly passed its red light camera law that would have allowed Chicago to issue these type of violations according to the complaint. The lawsuit asks to recover the $90 fines (now $100) allegedly unlawfully levied against hundreds of thousands of drivers between 2003 and 2006. A successful case could potentially cost the Chicago tens of millions of dollars in refunds.
But this recent lawsuit is not the first salvo in class action taken against Chicago’s red light cameras and not the first case challenging the legal basis for the law.
The original and similar lawsuit was filed on July 2, 2010 on behalf of Elizabeth M. Keating and Paul W. Ketz against the City of Chicago as well as red light camera companies Redflex Traffic Systems and Redspeed Illinois LLC.
However, that lawsuit was dismissed by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Michael Hyman on a motion by the City of Chicago the beginning of August, 2011. But Simmons promptly filed an appeal with the Illinois Appellate Court on August 31, 2011.
Attorneys for Simmons Law Firm declined to comment on both pending cases.
As the wheels of justice move very slowly, a decision on the appeal probably won’t be rendered by a three judge panel until the end of the year.
This most recent filing is similar to the original case, but with mild differences. It is possible this second class action suit is a strategic move to get legal challenges to the law on the record before the speed camera ordinance was passed. The speed camera ordinance makes mild, but important changes to the city’s camera enforcement law, theoretically reducing legal exposure from lawsuits like the one filed Wednesday.
But whether or not this class action suit or the appeal before the Illinois Appellate Court will succeed is still one, big, question mark.
A recent appellate opinion may not bode well for drivers hit with a Chicago red light camera ticket hoping to get a $100 refund.
In Fischetti vs. Schaumburg, Gina Fischetti was issued a red light camera ticket in Schaumburg (which has since elminated its RLC program). Fischetti had sued on the basis that the ticket was issued to the registered owner of the vehicle and the camera could not positively identify her as the driver of the vehicle on the date and time the RLC violation occurred.
The court ruled against Fischetti’s appeal upholding the lower court’s opinion less than a month ago on March 23rd, 2012.
A similar case regarding Chicago’s red light camera program went as far as the United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit). In Idris vs. City of Chicago, the plaintiff Parveen Idris took issue with being fined for being the owner of the vehicle even though someone else was driving the vehicle. Attorneys for Idris claimed Chicago’s red light camera ordinance violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the Constitution’s 14th amendment.
The Court of Appeals ruled struck down Idris’ appeal in January, 2009 stating in its opinion:
“Is it rational to fine the owner rather than the driver? Certainly so. A camera can show reliably which cars and trucks go through red lights but is less likely to show who was driving. That would make it easy for owners to point the finger at friends or children—and essentially impossible for the City to prove otherwise. A system of photographic evidence reduces the costs of law enforcement and increases the proportion of all traffic offenses that are detected; these benefits can be achieved only if the owner is held responsible.”
But if anyone can succeed where others have not, Simmons may be the law firm to do it.
Considered one of the top class action and personal injury law firms in the country, it has won billions in awards on behalf of its clients for cases involving asbestos.
Also, motorists may be heartened by the success of a class action lawsuit filed against Minneapolis, MN for their red light camera program.
Minneapolis was ultimately slapped down for doing what Chicago has done by developing an RLC enforcement program without the sanction of the state.
In January, 2009 a court ordered Minneapolis to refund 14,000 drivers a total of $2.6 million, according to The Newspaper.com.