BACK

SEATTLE TIMES

Wednesday, October 09, 2002 - 12:00 a.m. Pacific

Diamond will refund late fees added to parking tickets

By Gina Kim
Seattle Times staff reporter


Thousands of people who overstayed their visit at Diamond Parking lots in Seattle and throughout the state, and then were tardy paying their fines, may be entitled to refunds.

The parking-lot company has agreed, in a preliminary settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court last year, to refund hundreds of thousands of dollars in "collection fees" it tacked on to 57,000 fines.

Those who received tickets at Diamond Parking lots in the past four years — that is, tickets still contestable under the statute of limitations — are being sent letters informing them of the lawsuit brought by Michelle Hansen of Seattle, said her attorney Harish Bharti.

In the preliminary agreement, Diamond Parking said it will pay $2.2 million in refunds and attorneys fees, said Bharti. The case will go before U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly on Jan. 15 for final approval.


James Stoetzer, attorney for Diamond Parking, which has been in business since 1922 and operates hundreds of parking lots in Washington, could not be reached for comment last night.


Bharti said that when drivers fail to pay or don't pay enough for parking at a Diamond lot, they are given a ticket, usually $25 in the Seattle area. If the ticket isn't paid within 15 days, the company sends a "delinquency" letter, asking for the original fine plus a collection fee, usually $30, bringing the total to $55, court documents said.


"In the state of Washington, it's illegal to collect any collection fee," said Bharti. "It's totally illegal."

State law requires that additional fees imposed by collection agencies must be "expressly authorized by statute," court documents said.

"This I'm proud of because it doesn't cost a single dime for a customer. And they can be sitting on their couch and still receive a refund," said Bharti.

Gina Kim: 206-464-2761 or gkim@seattletimes.com.


SEATTLE-PI

Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Refunds for parking 'tickets'
$2.2 million settlement reached over 'collection fees' in Diamond Parking lots

By TRACY JOHNSON
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

More than 50,000 people who paid a questionable "collection fee" after failing to pay for using a Diamond Parking lot will be eligible for a refund under a settlement reached in a U.S. District Court lawsuit.

Attorneys in the class-action lawsuit say the refunds will total about $2.2 million, to be paid by Drico Recovery Services of Seattle, Diamond Parking's collection agency.

The agency was illegally slapping errant parkers with a fee of up to $30 between October 23, 1997, and May 31 of this year, the lawyers said.

"It's totally against the law to charge these fees, but they've been doing it for years and years," said attorney Harish Bharti. Along with lawyers Tyler Weaver and Steve Berman, Bharti sued Diamond and Drico.

An attorney for Diamond said he could not comment on the settlement, which won't be final until a January hearing before Judge Thomas Zilly.

Jim Stoetzer, a lawyer for Drico, said company officials were unavailable yesterday and declined to comment. Officials of Drico and Diamond maintain they did nothing wrong, according to court documents.

Diamond Parking issues tickets for motorists who fail to stuff money in the paybox slot at its lots.

Inspectors routinely check the lots and leave a $25 ticket for people who appear to be breaking the rules.

According to the lawsuit, tickets unpaid after 15 days were sent to Drico, which tacked on a fee of up to $30 and wrote letters demanding payment.

That's what happened to plaintiff Michelle Hansen, Bharti said.

She parked her car in a Diamond lot on Seattle's West Mercer Street in April 2001 and didn't have $6 cash to pay until she came back to her car.

Bharti said his client ended up with a $25 ticket and later a letter demanding $55.

He contends that Washington law doesn't allow collection agencies to impose such a "collection fee" in most circumstances.

Hansen's suit, filed last October, alleges that each letter seeking a collection fee constitutes an act of mail fraud and racketeering.

It contends that Diamond and Drico violated the state Consumer Protection Act and federal debt-collection laws.

Though Diamond has more than 900 locations in eight states and Canada, the settlement affects only people who were hit with collection fees in Washington.

Notices were mailed Friday to people who appeared to be eligible for a refund. They must fill out and return a claim form.

Hansen's attorneys say some people paid the collection fee more than once and estimate that roughly 56,000 to 57,000 people are affected.

Before refunds are made, the judge must approve the settlement as fair and determine the amount of attorneys' fees, which would reduce the refunds by up to 15 percent.

Bharti and Hansen have a similar case pending against Ticket Track Inc., accusing the company of seeking collection fees for numerous other parking-lot companies in Washington.


SETTLEMENT

Amount: $2.2 million, to be paid by Diamond Parking's collection agency
To: More than 50,000 parkers who paid up to a $30 additional penalty between Oct. 23, 1997, and May 31, 2002

Next: Judge's approval, attorneys' fees pending


P-I reporter Tracy Johnson can be reached at 206-467-5942 or tracyjohnson@seattlepi.com.

TOP

BACK