Hundreds of thousands of Chicago residents are getting their share of a multimillion dollar settlement stemming from a lawsuit against the city’s red-light program.
The city agreed last year to pay $38.7 million to people who were deprived of their right to contest red-light tickets as part of a class-action lawsuit that attracted a large number of people.
Attorney Jacie Zolna, who led the suit against the city, said more than 400,000 people signed on to participate and are now getting a check in the mail.
“Literally the thousands of people who have been calling our office over the last four or five years … are in serious trouble with the city,” Zolna said. “A lot of those people will be getting a lot of relief.”
He said the average check is about $36, but he’s encouraging people to participate in a program that could wipe out hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of debt for some people.
That debt relief program is part of the settlement. It provides relief to people who joined the settlement and also racked up debt for unpaid fines. If they pay the remainder of their original ticket, the city will forgive all debt associated with it.
“One of our plaintiffs had close to a thousand dollars in debt and [the city] threatened taking her car away and her license away. It’s not a fun situation to be in,” Zolna said. “But all she has to do is pay $90 and that whole amount will get wiped out.”
A joint WBEZ and ProPublica Illinois investigation earlier this year showed unpaid tickets can quickly spiral out of control and threaten the livelihoods of Chicago’s working poor population.
Each year, the city of Chicago issues more than three million tickets for a wide range of parking, vehicle compliance and automated traffic camera violations. The tickets range from $25 for broken headlights to $250 for illegally parking in a disabled zone.
In 2015, Zolna sued the city, saying drivers weren’t getting a fair chance to fight red-light camera tickets.Since then, the city changed its process to give people more time to contest tickets and pay fines.
People who paid their fines without a fair chance at contesting them have 60 days to cash their check from the city. Zolna says that’s a typical window of time for such lawsuits, and something his team negotiated as part of the settlement.
He said if a person does not cash a check within two months, the city will send another as required by the settlement.