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Hertz’s $11M Settlement on Toll Fees Approved

(CN) - Hertz can pay $11 million to settle claims that it charged customers unwarranted "PlatePass" electronic toll fees, a federal judge ruled, granting the deal final approval.

Susan Doherty, one of the lead plaintiffs in the class action, allegedly rented from Hertz in September 2009. After a car accident she noticed a transponder device on the windshield for PlatePass, which she used on nine days to pay highway tolls electronically instead of stopping to pay cash, according to the complaint.

Although the device had a notice stating that Doherty's credit card would be charged for tolls, Doherty claimed that she returned the car on Oct. 6, 2009, and received a bill for $3.25 from PlatePass stating that she owed a fee for the cash price of tolls and a $2.50 per diem service fee.

A week later, however, PlatePass allegedly deducted $77.75 directly from Doherty's account without any further notice or authorization.

The website for PlatePass said she had been charged $57.75 for tolls at the cash price and $20 in administrative fees, and that the maximum fee she could be charged was $10 per month, not per week, as the paper invoice stated, according to the complaint.

Doherty's original complaint in New Jersey named as defendants the Hertz Corp., PlatePass and its parent, American Traffic Solutions Inc.

Her claims were eventually consolidated with those of Dwight Simonson, who alleged that American Traffic Solutions sent him a bill for a $10 service charge and a 75 cent toll for driving the Hertz car rented at the Orlando International Airport in June 2009 through a PlatePass toll lane.

Hertz never told Simonson his rental car was pre-enrolled and activated with PlatePass, let alone that he would be charged fees for using the service, according to his complaint.

With Doherty and Simonson purporting to represent a class of up to 1.8 million consumers, the court refused to award American Traffic Solutions and PlatePass summary judgment in April 2013.

U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman granted an $11 million settlement between the parties final approval on June 25, noting the class's "overwhelmingly positive reaction," as only 51 members opted out, and of the two objections filed, one was withdrawn, and the other was "factually and legally insufficient."

Indeed, the settlement meets all requirements for approval, according to the ruling.

"There was extensive discovery with over 40,000 pages of documents and a large amount of electronic discovery being exchanged, including an entire transactional database provided by defendants," Hillman wrote.

Chistopher Placitella and Michael Coren, of Cohen, Placitella & Roth, served as class counsel along with Steven Jaffe and Mark Fistos of Famer, Jaffe, Weissing, Edwards, Fistos & Lehrman, as well as Stephen Dunn with Emanuel & Dunn.

They will recover more than $3.1 million in attorneys' fees and litigation costs, according to the settlement, which also includes service awards of $5,000 each for Doherty and Simonson.

"Named plaintiffs, Mr. Simonson and Ms. Doherty, had the ability and the incentive to represent the claims of the class vigorously, and did so adequately and appropriately through their personal involvement in the case and the burdens of litigation which they endured," Hillman wrote. "The court also find[s] that the named plaintiffs actively participated in the litigation by retaining adequate counsel and monitoring and assisting in the course of the litigation through discovery, the production of documents, and by participating in depositions. The court similarly find[s] that class counsel in this matter was experienced, qualified, and well able to conduct the litigation as amply demonstrated by their own history of litigation complex class litigation in state and federal court and their success in defeating motions to dismiss."

John Ward represented the defendants.

Hertz reportedly reaped $10.8 billion in revenue in 2013.

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