YOU KNOW there is something terribly wrong with an industry when even those who profit from it concede the need for stricter rules and more oversight. Such is the situation in Maryland’s little-regulated world of structured settlement buyouts. People terribly damaged in childhood by lead paint poisoning are being robbed of the compensation that is supposed to sustain them. State lawmakers need to enact true protections, and those who have been complicit in exploiting these vulnerable people, including judges who have enabled opportunistic businesses, should be held accountable.
The disgraceful practices of companies that purchase the rights to court-awarded settlements paid out monthly to lead paint victims were detailed in a searing exposé by The Post’s Terrence McCoy. Baltimore, with long-standing problems of decaying and dangerous housing, has been a primary hunting ground. Those victimized are poor people, many of whom suffered severe cognitive brain damage as the result of childhood exposure to lead paint.
The Post’s investigation detailed how these people have been preyed upon by companies that purchase the rights to their structured settlements for a bare fraction of their value. Among the cases cited was a victim who sold nearly $327,000 worth of payments, which had a present-day value of $179,000, for less than $16,200 — about 9 cents on the dollar. Keep in mind that the court settlements were structured in the first place to avoid lump-sum payments so that vulnerable, disabled recipients would have a dependable source of income throughout adulthood. So how on earth could any judge in good conscience sign off on that deal as being in the seller’s best interests?
Supposed protections built into a 2000 Maryland law governing these buyouts are wholly inadequate, merely giving cover to companies to act with impunity. It’s absurd that these arrangements can be approved without the settlement recipient being in the courtroom and that companies can shop the state for judges likely to give less scrutiny. Moreover, the independent professional advisers whom the law requires a seller to consult seem to have been more interested in helping companies seal their deals than in finding what is best for the seller.
Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg (D-Baltimore) said he will introduce legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session to deal with the issue, and Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) said his office is aggressively reviewing the matter, including different aspects of these transactions. We hope that means investigation of the companies behind these deals and recourse for people who have been twice victimized.