Chicago is due to pay nearly $40 million to settle a class-action lawsuit which alleges the city ignored its own rules when issuing citations related to red-light cameras.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed to the $38.75 settlement, which alleged that Chicago failed to give adequate notice to the recipients of speed- and red-light camera violations.
“We’re going to today, with our payment, right years of wrongs,” said the mayor, speaking to reporters after the settlement had been approved by the city council.
Chicago has installed one of the largest systems of citation-issuing traffic cameras in the country, with over 300 units set up across an estimated 150 intersections. By contrast, New York had fewer than 200 cameras at the time the suit began.
Under the conditions outlined by the deal, more than 1.2 million people could recoup up to half of what they paid Chicago in tickets and associated fines.
The Chicago Tribune paraphrased litigating attorney Jacie Zolna as saying those qualified to collect will receive mail sometime in the coming months, which will inform them of their inclusion in the suit. The same letter will also contain instructions on how class members can receive their share of the settlement.
Originally filed in March of 2015, the suit accused the city of breaking its own protocol in dealing with individuals caught circumventing the law on red-light and speed cameras.
Ostensibly, Chicago is supposed to ‘send a second notice of violation before guilt’ can be determined. In many cases, the city sent only one.
Fees for late payments were routinely doubled, often far sooner than allowed by law.
Not long after the suit was filed, Emanuel tried to correct the city’s shortcoming by implementing a new ordinance.
The ordinance removed the requirement that Chicago send a second notice of violation, while stipulating that everyone who’d received only one from 2010 to 2015 would be given a ‘do-over.’ Notices were sent to former recipients, giving them ‘the right to request an administrative hearing to contest their tickets.’
While former Chicago Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton said Emanuel’s ordinances and extensions corrected any ‘misconception’ that drivers had been wronged, Zolna argued that the city was simply trying to backpedal.
“When they passed that law and did that sneaky move, it just emboldened me,” he said Thursday, discussing the settlement. “I decided I wouldn’t let them try to do that.”
The Tribune spoke to Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale, 9th, who’d been an outspoken critic of the red-light cameras in the years preceding the lawsuit. He said the massive settlement was proof the ticket programs aren’t in place to promote safety, but rather “trying to balance the books on the backs of people who can least afford to pay.”
“What I can tell you, ‘I told you so,’” said Beale, the City Council Transportation Committee chairman. “If you recall, years ago I said the whole red light camera issue was more about revenue than it was about public safety.”