This is not a pretty story. And it certainly doesn’t reflect well on our country’s civil justice system.
We’re talking about how “purchasing” companies buy up structured settlements on the cheap from people desperate for immediate cash — evidently in full view of our court system. This comes from an investigative piece in this week’s Washington Post.
This story focuses on an industry that feeds off the poor and disabled everywhere but apparently has hit that population in Baltimore the hardest. Behind the attractive facade of the city’s famous row houses lies years and years of exposure to lead paint. Lead paint chips that children eat and dust that children breathe and that causes permanent and severe brain damage. Thousands of lawsuits have been filed in Baltimore alone and settlements reached over the lead poisoning from paint. Instead of receiving a lump sum of settlement proceeds, it is not unusual for clients to receive a guaranteed and steady stream of payments over their lifetime. So what happens if companies come along, target those clients and buy up that stream of payments for instant cash?
What the Washington Post found was example after example where purchasing companies bought the structured settlements of lead poisoning victims for a mere fraction of their value. “One 24-year-old lead victim sold nearly $327,000 worth of payments, which had a present value of $179,000 for less than $16,200 — or about 9 cents on the dollar. Another relinquished $256,000 worth of payments, which had a present value of $166,000, for $35,000–or about 21 cents on the dollar.
The Washington Post reports that Maryland has put some measures in place to protect vulnerable people selling structured settlements but they don’t seem to be working. For example, the fairly recent requirement that any purchasing agreement must be approved by a county judge has apparently led to forum shopping, where the petitions get routinely approved by “friendly” judges.
Of course, this story is more complicated than we can capture in this blog post but we recommend you take the time to read the full story.