TAMPA BAY, Florida -- A Florida Supreme Court opinion released on Thursday ruled municipalities had no legal authority to issue red light camera tickets prior to the signing of the 2010 Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act. That means automated tickets issued before the law took effect on July 1, 2010 were done so improperly.
The Supreme Court's ruling specified that two drivers who received tickets in Aventura and Orlando, respectively, deserved refunds. However, an attempt to make it a class-action suit that could help get refunds to all drivers ticketed prior to July 1, 2010 was denied.
The ruling could mean millions of dollars in refunds for drivers those affected cities, as well as communities where five- and six-year-old red light camera (RLC) lawsuits are still pending, like Brooksville and Bradenton.
However, many communities that wrote red light camera tickets prior to July 2010 - including Temple Terrace and Lakeland - had already settled class action lawsuits, therefore preventing drivers from claiming any new refunds.
TIMELINE: 10 News' Short Yellows Investigation
Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case tell 10 Investigates there will be no immediate fallout from the decision, although the verdict may help convince the 16 cities they're still locked in litigation with to negotiate a cash settlement to protect taxpayer funds.
While all the suits were filed as class-actions, judges have yet to certify them as so. If cities decide to continue fighting in court, the certification of the class-action request would ultimately determine if drivers get money back. Refunds may also depend on whether individual drivers paid - or challenged - their ticket initially.
Furthermore, no amount or method of refunds was mentioned by the Supreme Court, so the battle could continue to drag. Attorney fees will also significantly cut into any negotiated driver refund.
Other communities with active litigation over the authority to use red light cameras prior to the 2010 Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act include Miami Beach, North Miami Beach, North Miami, North Bay Village, Hallandale Beach, Bal Harbor, Coral Gables, Miami Gardens, Palm Bay, Palm Coast, Huckleberry, and Homestead.
The decision pertains only to RLC tickets written prior to July 1, 2010. Refunds for improper tickets after the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act went into effect - including those for illegally short yellow lights - have also been difficult to come by.
No lawyer has filed a major lawsuit over 10 Investigates' findings, largely because the majority of drivers pay their tickets immediately to avoid increased costs. Townsend says payment of a traffic fine without appeal is essentially seen - in the eyes of Florida courts - as accepting fault and waiving the right to challenge it.
"If they paid without objecting, I think it's a very hard road to climb," attorney Jack Townsend, who spent four years battling Temple Terrace.
New 10 Investigates discoveries
Meanwhile, a viewer tip led 10 Investigates to exposing another seemingly-illegal RLC intersection: Bradenton's Eastbound cameras at 6th Ave. W and US-301.
State law requires "Photo Enforced" signs posted on the right side of the road prior to any RLC-monitored intersection. However, the city posted the sign on the left side of the road, difficult to see for drivers on the right side of the five-lane, one-way road.
Bradenton officials have not yet responded to 10 Investigates' messages, but drivers who were ticketed at the intersection may have grounds to appeal based on the notification failure.