Appeals court to hear $10,000 Express Lanes case

FAIRFAX, Va. — Millions of people will use the 495 and 95 Express Lanes in northern Virginia, but a case going before an appeals judge Thursday could have ramifications for the large fees and penalties that cause huge sticker shock.

Attorney Marla Diaz and her clients Toni Cooley and Jim Diller will argue before the judge that the fees and penalties are excessive and illegal under Virginia law.

Transurban pursued Cooley for more than $10,000 and Diller for more than $24,000 for unpaid toll trips taken in 2013.

In October, Diaz argued that Transurban could not prove it spent $1,100 in administrative fees to track down Cooley for 11 unpaid toll trips.  She also argued that since Cooley was unaware there was a problem with her E-ZPass until the 11 trips were taken, all the trips should be considered one $50 penalty and not 11 separate civil offenses at $8,800.

Diaz points out that the 11 trips took place before the first invoice went to Cooley.  She also argued that Cooley paid the original tolls from the 11 trips before it went into collections, and therefore Transurban is simply suing her over fees and penalties and not unpaid tolls.

As WTOP reported, Fairfax County District Court Judge Michael Cassidy ruled for Cooley on the administrative fees, but ruled for Transurban on the civil penalties.

Diaz also argued that the Virginia DMV record showing Cooley owns the car is hearsay evidence that should not have been accepted.  Cassidy rejected this argument.

Cooley and Diller were fined about $2,000 a piece, but both filed an appeal immediately.

Diaz will likely bring up all these issues before the appeals judge again.

Any decision could have serious ramifications on anyone who drives on the Express Lanes with an E-ZPass problem.

It is unclear whether a judge would make any ruling Thursday, and there is a chance that a continuance might get filed too.

Attorney David Bernhard is defending clients against these Express Lanes fees.  He outlined his strategy on Fox5 this week, but he is also paying close attention to the Diller and Cooley cases.

If there were a joint lawsuit filed against Transurban, then the two attorneys might combine their clients together into one case.

In October, Transurban officials told WTOP that it is following the law and cases like Cooley and Diller are exceedingly rare.  They also add the new first time forgiveness policy means the fees will be capped at $2,200, plus court costs.

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