For the structured settlement industry to achieve its public policy and revenue potential, business standards and practices must improve. This blog post, which begins a new S2KM series, highlights historical developments which help define the business standards and practices of the current structured settlement industry.
Periodic Payment Settlement Act of 1982 - This Federal legislation amended IRC section 104(a)(2) (clarifying an exclusion for "periodic payments") and added IRC section 130 (introducing and defining "qualified assignments" and "qualified funding assets").
NSSTA (1985) - A pioneering group of structured settlement agents and life companies formed the National Structured Settlement Trade Association (NSSTA) which became the first, and remains the largest, structured settlement professional association.
First Settlement Transfer (1986) - James Lokey completed the first transfer of structured settlement payment rights thereby launching the structured settlement secondary market. A number of companies subsequently responded to this market development to create a "gray market" allowing and encouraging structured settlement recipients to liquidate part or all of their future payment rights.
Revenue Procedure 93-34 (1993) - Regulations issued by the U.S. Treasury became effective defining a new type of IRC 468B fund ("Qualified Settlement Fund") providing an efficient dispute resolution technique for defendants and a safe harbor for plaintiffs who need time to resolve their own settlement planning issues prior to deciding upon any specific form of distribution including structured settlements.
NSSTA CSSC Program (1994) - NSSTA originated a training and certification program at the University of Notre Dame leading to a designation for qualifying persons as Certified Structured Settlement Consultants (CSSC).
Weil Settlement (1996) - The plaintiff in this lawsuit argued that, as a result of an anti-competitive conspiracy among certain structured settlement agents, annuity providers and NSSTA, structured settlement annuity providers marketed exclusively through agents who represented defendants and refused to appoint agents who represented plaintiffs or their attorneys. The confidential settlement of the Weil lawsuit coincided with a change in industry business practices whereby structured settlement annuity providers began to appoint agents representing plaintiffs and allowing agents representing defendants and plaintiffs to share commissions.
NASP (1996) - A group of companies specializing in structured settlement transfers created the National Association of Settlement Purchasers (NASP) which became the first and only trade association specializing in the structured settlement secondary market.
Structured Settlement Protection Statutes (1997-present) - Beginning with Illinois in 1997, nearly all states have enacted some form of structured settlement protection statute with many such statutes, since 2000, based upon the Model State Structured Settlement Protection Act which was also adopted by the National Conference of Insurance Legislators in 2004. These state laws require structured settlement transfers to receive advanced state court approval.
NSSTA Code of Ethics (1997) - NSSTA adopted and published its Statement of Ethics and Professional Responsibility "to provide guiding principles to its members and member organizations". Implicit in the acceptance of this Statement, according to NSSTA, "is an obligation to act in a professionally responsible and ethical manner when providing structured settlement services".
NY Attorney General Investigation (1999) - The New York Attorney General launched an investigation of J.G. Wentworth, a leading structured settlement transfer company, and entered into a settlement in 1999 limiting discounts on J.G. Wentworth's New York transactions to no more than 25%.
Victims of Terrorism Tax Relief Act of 2001 - Among other provisions, this legislation added IRC section 5891 ("Structured Settlement Factoring Transactions") to Subtitle E of the Internal Revenue Code and resulted from a political compromise between NSSTA and NASP.
SSP (2001) - Dissatisfied with what they considered NSSTA's continuing defense bias, a group of structured settlement agents formed the Society of Settlement Planners (SSP), a national non-profit education and public policy association for structured settlement professionals who advocate "the injury victim's right to choose settlement planning advisers and financial and guarantee providers".
Grillo case (2001) - A Texas district court entered a $1,600,000 judgment against plaintiff attorneys based upon allegations by their prior clients that a medical malpractice case settlement "contained no language which required at least one defendant or its liability insurer to promise a fixed and determinable periodic payment which would be tax free to the claimant".
California Attorney General's Study (2004) - Prepared for the California legislature, this study surveyed hundreds of California transfers between 2000 and 2003. For a summary of the results, see "Transfers of Structured Settlement Payment Rights - What Judges Should Know about Structured Settlement Protection Acts", by Daniel Hindert and Craig Ulman.
NAIC Compensation Disclosure (2004) - The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) adopted a Compensation Disclosure Amendment to its Producer Licensing Model Act. The Disclosure Amendment neither mentions nor excludes structured settlements.
Saltzburg and Chemerinsky Opinion Letters (2006) - First presented at the ATLA 2006 Winter Meeting, two legal opinion letters written by law professors Stephen Saltzburg and Erwin Chemerinsky reach similar conclusions:
- Experts, including structured settlement experts, have a fiduciary duty to their clients.
- Plaintiff experts have a conflict of interest if they are paid by someone other than the plaintiff without disclosure to and consent by the plaintiff.
- Plaintiff attorneys have a duty to disclose this conflict of interest by structured settlement experts to their clients.
Macomber v. Travelers (2007) - Settled on undisclosed terms, this class action lawsuit alleged that Travelers lowered the cost of structured settlements by 2% without informing plaintiffs (shortchanging) by paying its approved structured settlement agents a 2% commission and retaining a 2% commission for itself (rebating). Coincidental with this settlement, Travelers changed its structured settlement business practices and its affiliated life company stopped selling structured settlement annuities.
SSP RSP program (2007) - SSP launched a Registered Settlement Planner (RSP) professional certification program in affiliation with Texas Tech University including an educational component; submission and review of a comprehensive personal injury settlement plan; experience requirements; continuing education; and a code of ethics.
NSSTA Broker Relations Initiative (2007) - Consultant Lynn Courier introduced the first draft of a proposed "Standards of Professional Conduct" for structured settlement consultants developed by the NSSTA-sponsored Broker Relations Initiative (BRI) during the NSSTA 2007 Fall Meeting. To date, NSSTA has not adopted any additional standards of professional conduct beyond its 1997 Code of Ethics.
Rapid Settlements (2007) - Rapid Settlements, a Texas factoring company, failed in a series of transfer cases to successfully utilize arbitration clauses in its attempt to bypass state structured settlement protection statutes.
Fresno County Factoring Cases (2009) - In Henderson v. Scioteco, a California appellate court ruled favorably for 321 Henderson Receivables, a J.G. Wentworth affiliate, reversing earlier opinions of a California superior court in 11 factoring cases consolidated for appeal. The appellate court ruling allowed Henderson to amend the transfer petitions at issue to correct any errors prior to any new hearing on the petitions and additionally held that public policy supports state court approved structured factoring transactions.
Suitability in Annuity Transactions Model Regulation (2010) - The NAIC adopted this Model Regulation "to require insurers to establish a system to supervise recommendations and to set forth standards and procedures for recommendations to consumers that result in transaction involving annuity products so that the insurance needs and financial objectives of consumers at the time of the transaction are appropriately addressed." Significantly for structured settlements, exemptions from the Model Regulation include: "settlements of or assumptions of liabilities associated with personal injury litigation or any dispute or claim resolution process."
Spencer v. Hartford (2010) - A U.S. district judge in Connecticut approved a $72.5 million class action settlement resulting from plaintiff allegations (denied by Hartford) that Hartford and its attorneys, brokers and agents violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and committed common law fraud in structuring its settlements. Hartford's affiliated life company stopped selling structured settlement annuities in 2009.
For more detailed information about these structured settlement business standards and practices developments, see "Structured Settlements and Periodic Payment Judgments" co-authored by Daniel Hindert, Joseph Dehner and Patrick Hindert.