LAPLACE, LA (WVUE) - Many Louisiana drivers say they've been blindsided after the Office of Motor Vehicles sent out past-due notices to more than a million people across the state.
"I opened it, and I said, oh my goodness! I know I don't owe anyone anything. Why did I get a delinquent debt?" LaPlace resident Raj Pannu said.
Her fine showed up in her mailbox last week. She one of the 1.2 million people who got a letter of delinquency from the state saying that sometime ago, their car insurance lapsed and they've been penalized. The fines range from $125 to $625 if the fine is not paid by 60 days. The letters warn drivers that the fines will be turned over to a collections agency if they're not paid.
Pannu said her insurance never lapsed and she sent over documents to the OMV showing proof.
"I tried to explain to them what had happened. We switched from State Farm to Progressive, and they said, 'well Progressive did not send us any paperwork.' I said well, that is not my fault. Why are you trying to target customers?" Pannu said.
Karen Toole also got a letter because the state says she owes them for lapsing on insurance for her car that flooded - along with her house - during Hurricane Isaac. She stormed up to her local OMV and said she got the runaround even after she proved her insurance never went delinquent.
"They told me they would decrease the fine to $125 but I'm not paying for something that I don't owe," she said. "They are kind of like making it impossible for you to resolve it. What are you left with? You either pay it to get them off your back or you end up with a lot of fees and it's going to follow you around."
"I understand their aggravation, I understand that they are disappointed or mad or whatever, but our people have got to try to document and record in some way shape or form," Col. Mike Edmonson said.
State Police oversee the OMV. Edmonson said the department is just doing its job and collecting the fines it has failed to enforce over the years.
"We're going to try to document those cases where you say, you know what? It's been 15 years, 20 years, 25 years, and I don't have that information. We are going to check on our end, and if we don't have it either, then we're going to clear those records. We made a decision to clear those records. But in those indications where there was a lapse in insurance, that's the law, and we have to follow the law on those cases," Edmonson said.
The OMV promised to extend telephone hours to 8 p.m. to ease the process. FOX 8 called at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, but an automated message said the office was not taking any calls for the rest of the night.
The OMV said it is collecting the fines after the state forced agencies to start enforcing unpaid fines.