Red-light camera refund

red light camera signSometime between 2005 and 2014, I got nailed by a red-light camera. I don’t remember the date or the time, but I do remember the flash of light as the camera caught me sneaking through the intersection at the last possible moment of the yellow. And I definitely remember getting the bad news in the mail: a violation notice, a picture of my car—complete with a very clear image of my license plate—and a bill for $100.

I paid it—grumpily—and promptly pitched the notice. End of story, I thought, but lesson learned. Since then, I’ve been scrupulously careful about not proceeding through an intersection to shave a millisecond off my travel time.

But last week, I got a reprieve. After years of class-action litigation, American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the company that operated red-light cameras in 27 municipalities, has agreed to a settlement. About 900,000 Missouri residents are eligible to apply for a refund. The total settlement could cost American Traffic Solutions $16 million. I guess ATS has done the math and has decided that $16 million isn’t so bad. It must be a very profitable company.

According to the tiny print on my postcard, the lawsuit alleged that ATS “operated unlawful camera monitoring systems at various traffic intersections throughout Missouri, and that ATS improperly issued violation notices because the local ordinances conflicted with Missouri state law, were unconstitutional, and/or the municipalities did not have the authority to enact the red-light-camera ordinances.”

There’s still a case about red-light cameras pending in the Missouri Supreme Court. According to the Kansas City Star:

Missouri cities are awaiting a state Supreme Court ruling this year for guidance on two key 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.

But, even before that decision comes in, ATC—while denying the allegations against it—has settled the class-action suit. Last week, we all got postcards offering us a settlement of 20 percent. One side instructed us to “read the notice carefully.” That wasn’t easy, because the other side was printed in magnifying-glass-ready type (I’m guessing 6 point). It consisted of a long legal explanation of the settlement, smashed into a postcard. Buried in there was information about a website where we could apply for our refund. I had to wade through a lot of gobbledygook to find it [they did, at least, underline the web info]. We have until Feb. 28 to file.

Surprisingly, the application process was relatively easy. I’ve received a number of these class-action settlement notices over the years, but I’ve never filed a claim, because the process is too daunting, and the return—usually less than a dollar–doesn’t seem worth the trouble. (I should probably be more conscientious about these things in the future.)

Missouri made this refund much simpler: I didn’t have to produce the original violation notice or even remember the date when the camera got me. So, I have now officially applied for my refund.

And now, I’m going to try not to violate any other laws while I’m waiting for my check.