Fighting a traffic ticket without a lawyer can entail a time-consuming trip to court.
So a company called TIKD came up with a way to help motorists challenge their tickets without ever leaving their homes. More than 8,000 drivers in Tampa Bay and other areas have used TIKD's services
But now, the company, says, the Florida Bar and a South Florida law firm are conspiring to shut it down.
"Unfortunately, not everyone welcomes innovation and competition," TIKD says in a suit filed in November in federal court in Miami. "From the moment TIKD received publicity, it has been subject to a coordinated attack by the Florida Bar and a competitor in an effort to drive it out of business and prevent lawyers from representing TIKD's customers."
The "attack" has cost TIKD an estimated $3.8 million in lost revenues, the suit says.
Chris Riley, a U.S. Navy commander-turned entrepreneur, said he got the idea for TIKD after he was caught going a few miles over the speed limit in Miami and was hit with hundreds of dollars in fines and costs. He knew many others have the same experience.
"It's a huge problem and disproportionate to the event and there were few options to deal with it," Riley said. "The whole point (of TIKD) is to give consumers a simple way to do this. It's meant to be for plain vanilla, everyday things and not what I call moral hazards — DUI, very excessive speeding."
Here's how it works: You upload a photo of the ticket, pay a fixed price and TIKD hires an attorney for you. The price covers all costs. If you still end up with points against your license, TIKD refunds what you paid and also pays the ticket.
The business model is based on the fact that challenging tickets often results in dismissal or a lower fine. Because TIKD deals with so many tickets, "we know on average what's going to happen" and the company can set its prices accordingly, Riley said. Motorists typically save about 20 percent.
According to its lawsuit, TIKD's problems a year ago when the Florida Bar said it was opening "an unlicensed practice of law" investigation into the company after it was featured in a Miami Herald story. A few months later, attorneys with The Ticket Clinic, a Miami firm that also handles traffic tickets, threatened to report two of TIKD's lawyers to the Bar if they continued to work with the new company.
Following litigation, the parties reached a settlement last August. But TIKD alleges that the Bar and the Miami lawyers continued a "concerted effort" to put it out of business.
Bar staffers issued an opinion suggesting that lawyers who worked with programs like TIKD's could be in violation of Bar ethics rules. Ticket Clinic lawyers continued filing "baseless ethics complaints" against attorneys represent TIKD customers, the lawsuit says
"As before, these complaints were an anti-competitive weapon aimed at coercing lawyers to cease working with TIKD and stop it from competing with The Ticket Clinic," the suit says.
TIKD maintains that its services fully comply with Florida law. Attorneys representing its customers receive a flat fee and are independent practitioners "over whom TIKD does not exercise any direction or control," the suit says.
Among those named as defendants are attorney Mark S. Good, who founded The Ticket Clinic. It has 28 offices in Tampa, other Florida cities and in Georgia and California. A reporter was unable to reach Gold or anyone at Ticket Clinic's main office because the answering machine did not accept messages.
The Bar does not comment on pending litigation.
TIKD continues to handle tickets in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and has expanded to three other states and Washington D.C.
So far, Riley said, "the only place we've had any difficulty is Florida."
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate