REVELATIONS OF abuses by the structured-settlement-purchasing industry in Maryland prompted action by state officials. Courts pledged to review cases more rigorously, the state attorney general launched a review and legislators began drafting reforms to be considered in the upcoming General Assembly session. Let’s hope for similar efforts in Virginia, because it too has problems with companies that take advantage of vulnerable people.
Weaknesses in how Virginia governs companies that purchase the rights to court-awarded settlements paid out monthly to personal injury victims were examined by The Post’s Terrence McCoy. Mr. McCoy, who earlier exposed the scandal of lead paint victims in Baltimore being exploited for their settlement rights to lawsuits, detailed the case of a burn survivor who sold $11 million in future payments from his lawsuit settlement for pennies on the present dollar. Instead of having money — purposefully structured by the court not to be a lump-sum payment so it could sustain him through his life — 33-year-old Terrence Taylor is now broke, having effectively blown all the cash he received.
Mr. Taylor has sued the companies, and his account of his dealings with the companies is in dispute. Stephen E. Heretick, a Portsmouth lawyer who represented companies purchasing the rights and was recently elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates, told us Mr. Taylor lied and misrepresented himself. But the fact that Mr. Taylor was able to strike 10 deals with four companies over two years with apparently no one raising an eyebrow about the wisdom of his selling off 30 years of income raises questions about the process that governs these transactions.
To protect sellers of structured settlements, Virginia, like most states, requires approval from a county judge who must decide if the deals are in the sellers’ best interest. But the sellers are not required to attend the court hearings; they can — and generally do — waive their right to independent counsel, and the ability for cases to be filed anywhere in the state allows companies to find judges most receptive to the sales. The Portsmouth judge who approved seven of Mr. Taylor’s deals in 2013, Mr. McCoy reported, once approved 52 transactions in an hour-long hearing.
“Rubber stamp” is the term critics of the industry applied to Virginia. So it is encouraging that a spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) said the office planned to take a closer look at the issues raised by The Post’s reporting, and that some lawmakers spoke out in favor of legislation to provide better protections for sellers.
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