Following three 2012 settlement planning conferences, what have we learned, and what do we still need to know, before settlement planning can be recognized and analyzed as a business and professional market?
The settlement planning conferences provided:
- Definitions for Settlement Planning - Joseph Tombs, Director of the Registered Settlement Planner (RSP) certification program, defined settlement planning as "a profession helping recipients of settlement proceeds use those proceeds to achieve post-loss goals and transition successfully to post-settlement financial life. Settlement planners represent a blend of several professionals: part tax lawyer, trial lawyer, special needs lawyer, financial planner, annuity specialist, social worker, and medical case worker."
- Descriptions of an Emergent Profession - Several conference speakers described settlement planning as a larger and more complex successor business and profession for structured settlements. For example, Jack Meligan stated: "SSP and its members have been promoting the practice of Settlement Planning as a more comprehensive solution for the financial issues facing personal injury victims and their families, and the profession of Settlement Planning as the next evolutionary step for members of the financial and legal communities that serve these injured Americans."
- Product Introductions and Descriptions - In addition to structured settlement annuities, conference speakers discussed multiple financial and insurance products in the context of settlement planning including: settlement trusts; blended structures; alternative asset management options; market linked CDs; long term care insurance; life insurance; and reinsurance.
- Government Benefit Updates - Integrating financial and insurance products with available government benefits represents one of the most important settlement planning priorities and requires effective interaction among multiple settlement planning participants. The conferences highlighted settlement planning roles for special needs attorneys as well as financial and insurance professionals. In addition, government benefit developments related to settlement planning were discussed including new requirements for liability Medicare Set-Asides (MSAs) and special needs pooled trusts as well as the Patients Protection and Affordable Care Act.
- Tax Law Updates and Improvements - In addition to integrating tort settlement proceeds with government benefits, settlement planning requires careful tax planning and specialized document drafting. The SSP conference featured Robert Wood and Jeremy Babener, who provided tax law tips and updates for settlement planners, as well as David Higgins, who proposed a potential tax law alternative to expand the use of structured settlement annuities in settlement planning.
- Business Standards and Practices Discussions - The SSP's "Standards of Professional Conduct for Settlement Planners" (SSP Standards) represents a significant accomplishment and valuable industry resource. Professor Carl Pierce, who helped review and draft the SSP Standards, continued his analysis of related settlement planning issues as part of the Risk Settlement Planning Practicum. Karen Meyers, Director NSSTA's Certified Structured Settlement Consultant (CSSC) program, led a discussion about product suitability during the SSP Annual Meeting.
Despite continuing educational progress, however, certain questions about the settlement planning market still need to be prioritized and addressed before settlement planning becomes a recognized business and profession. Among the most fundamental and important:
- What types of settlements comprise the settlement planning market?
- How large is the settlement planning market?
- Is the settlement planning market increasing or decreasing?
- What informational resources exist to help answer these questions?
Towers Watson Updates
Beginning with the last question, S2KM recommends the Towers Watson updates on "U.S. Tort Cost Trends" as a starting point for discussing the settlement planning market. Since 1985, Towers Watson (and its antecedent Towers Perrin) have published 15 such updates with the most recent 2011 update analyzing U.S. tort costs from 2010. Each study:
- Consists of three components: 1) losses paid to third parties; 2) defense costs; and 3) administrative expenses.
- Calculates tort costs resulting from five insured plus uninsured business lines: 1) commercial multi-peril; 2) medical malpractice; 3) product liability; 4) other liability; and 5) commercial auto;
- Excludes: 1) no-fault auto insurance; 2) property coverages; 3) workers compensation; 4) certain extraordinary (one time) costs - example: tobacco litigation.
Highlights from Towers Watson's "2011 Update on U.S. Tort Cost Trends"
- The tort costs in 2010 ($264.6 billion) were the highest in U.S. history and represent a 5.1% increase from $251.8 billion in 2009. Towers Watson estimates the 2010 U.S. tort system cost approximately $857 per person, versus $820 per person in 2009.
- Towers Watson attributes the increase to the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion and resulting oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Absent the costs from this event, Towers Watson estimates 2010 tort costs would have decreased 2.4% from 2009.
- Since 1984, tort costs as a ratio of U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) have ranged from a low of 1.70% to a high of 2.30% with relatively rapid increases in the ratio during the mid-1980s and early 2000s offset by intermittent and multi-year declines in the ratio.
- Since 1950, even adjusting for inflation, increases in U.S. tort costs have far exceeded U.S. population growth. However, inflation-adjusted tort costs per capita were 16% lower in 2010 than in the peak year of 2004.
- The weak U.S. economy has had a notable impact on commercial auto insurance claims. 2010 tort costs were the lowest since 2000 and 19% lower than 2004.
- Although medical malpractice costs have increased at an average annual rate of 9.7%, versus 7.5% for all other tort costs, since 1975, growth in medical malpractice costs from 2005 to 2010 averaged only 0.3% per year.
- Looking ahead, Towers Watson:
- Anticipates employee practices litigation to be significant in the future despite the U.S. Supreme Court's 2011 ruling in favor of Wal-Mart in the sexual discrimination and civil rights class action case Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Betty Dukes et al.
- Identifies "fracking" (a natural gas drilling process that extracts natural gas from shale by using water and chemicals which could result in contaminated drinking water) as a new area of litigation where defense costs are beginning to mount.
Up until its 2002 update of "U.S. Tort Cost Trends", Towers Watson also translated annual tort costs into the following cost categories (with 2001 percentages): 1) administrative costs - 21%; 2) defense costs - 14%; 3) plaintiff attorneys -19%; 4) economic loss - 22%; and 5) non-economic loss - 24%.
Note: Towers Watson discontinued this latter portion of its analysis in 2002, according to Russ Sutter, a Tillinghast principal and actuary who directs the Towers Watson study, "primarily because we lack reliable information from plaintiff attorneys". These percentages therefore represent Towers Watson's "best estimate" in 2002.
S2KM assumptions: lacking alternative estimates of tort cost payment categories and percentages, Towers Watson's "best estimate" in 2002 for 2001 U.S. tort costs continues to represent the most reliable annual analysis of U.S. tort dollars paid to claimants and their attorneys.
Applying Towers Watson's percentages for 2001 to the results of Towers Watson's analysis of 2010 U.S. tort costs ($264.6 billion total), produces the following assumptive results: 1) administrative costs - $55.6 billion; 2) defense costs - $37.0 billion; 3) plaintiff attorneys - $50.3 billion; 4) economic loss - $58.2 billion; and 5) non-economic loss - $63.5 billion.
Utilizing both Towers Watson's 2011 update of its "U.S. Tort Cost Trends" plus S2KM's assumptions based upon Towers Watson's additional 2002 "best estimate" for 2001 produces the following assumptive results for 2010:
- Economic loss of $58.2 billion plus non-economic loss of $63.5 billion (both amounts presumably paid to claimants) equals $121.7 billion of tort-related dollars paid to claimants.
- $121.7 billion plus $50.3 billion paid to plaintiff attorneys equals $172 billion of tort-related dollars paid to plaintiffs and their attorneys.
S2KM will reference and utilize these 2010 annual assumptive "tort cost results" in subsequent blog posts while continuing to discuss the settlement planning market. For additional S2KM reporting about settlement planning, see the structured settlement wiki.