Sheltered from the violent storms that unleashed dozens of tornadoes across Oklahoma and the plains states on April 13-14, 2012, the University of Tulsa College of Law hosted the Richard B. Risk Jr. Settlement Planning Practicum which organizers believe was the first time any law school has sponsored a settlement planning educational conference.
Risk, a national authority on structured settlement law and one of the founders of the Society of Settlement Planners (SSP), endowed the settlement planning practicum which is expected to become an annual event for attorneys and law students. Risk invited and introduced the practicum presenters in the following speaking order: Joseph Tombs, Patrick Hindert, Mark Popolizio, Jeremy Babener, Jack Meligan and Professor Carl Pierce.
Tombs, a lawyer, certified financial planner and former SSP President who, working with Risk, helped organize the Registered Settlement Planner (RSP) certification program, addressed "Common Issues Attorneys Face When Settling Cases". As part of his presentation, Tombs contrasted settlement planning and financial planning. One primary difference, according to Tombs, is the relative importance in settlement planning of "dissipation risk". Other differentiating factors identified by Tombs include the importance of: government benefits, medical forecasting and special needs legal issues. Tombs discussed structured settlements as a core settlement planning tool that combines relatively low investment and dissipation risks.
Tombs emphasized the multi-professional skill sets settlement planning requires and described settlement planning as an evolving profession stating: "The more we study and practice settlement planning, the more we realize its complexity and understand its challenges." He offered the following definition for settlement planning: "a profession helping recipients of settlement proceeds use those proceeds to achieve post-loss goals and transition successfully to post-settlement financial life."
In his presentation titled "The History of Structured Settlements", Hindert (co-author of "Structured Settlements and Periodic Payment Judgments" and author of S2KM's blog) provided a visual analysis featuring schematic diagrams to explain how structured settlement has evolved from a claim management tool into a core component of the larger and more complex settlement planning profession - and how competing business models have restricted the growth of the structured settlement annuity market.
Hindert stated key structured settlement stakeholders have succumbed to "path dependence" by failing to strategically study and analyze continuing industry changes. Structured settlement business models and practices that once made sense and represented "industry standards", according to Hindert, have survived despite the eclipse of their justification, benefit and/or better alternatives.
Hindert described settlement planning as an "emergent system" and quoted John McWhorter, a linguist at Columbia University, to help explain the significance for structured settlements:
"Emergent systems [settlement planning] are ones in which many different elements interact. The pattern of interaction then produces a new element [settlement planning] that is greater than the sum of the parts, which then exercises a top-down influence on the constituent elements [including structured settlements]."
To improve and grow the structured settlement market, Hindert recommended more detailed and comprehensive study of alternative structured settlement payment models and life cycles within the broader context of settlement planning as an important and necessary first step.
A nationally recognized legal authority in Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) compliance and a current board member of the National Alliance of Medicare Set-Aside Professionals (NAMSAP), Popolizio addressed how Medicare impacts settlement planning. Starting with an introductory Medicare road map, he next discussed CMS' reimbursement rights for conditional Medicare payments - who is at risk; what is Medicare's recovery amount; how to challenge conditional payments; how to obtain information; CMS' most recently announced policies and payment options; and recent case law developments.
Popolizio also discussed Medicare set-aside arrangements (MSAs), in the context of both workers compensation and liability cases, as CMS' recommended method for protecting Medicare's future interests under the MSP Act. For liability cases, he began by emphasizing why the key issue is not: "Are liability MSAs required?" Instead, Popolizio reviewed two recent CMS memoranda providing informal information about how CMS looks at liability MSAs. Finally, Popolizio offered his own recommendations (a three-step process) for approaching the liability MSA issue and also reviewed recent related case law.
Babener, a rising star among structured settlement legal and tax experts, offered a comprehensive overview of "Taxation in Personal Injury Cases". He began by outlining sources for tax authority, the variables for tax liability and the character of income. Next, he discussed the exclusion for personal injury damages and explained the language of IRC 104(a)(2) before addressing other damages in personal injury cases - past and future medical expenses; punitive damages; and pre and post-judgment interest.
Babener explained the importance of documentation, including the complaint and the settlement agreement, to maximize the exclusion for personal injury damages. He highlighted specific facts that frequently create problems with the IRS and conversely how to encourage the IRS to respect the documents so as to obtain the preferred tax result. Babener concluded by addressing these additional settlement tax considerations: legal expenses; structured settlements; qualified settlement funds; and transfers of structured settlement payment rights.
Meligan, a founder and current President of the SSP, discussed "Pitfalls in Settlement Planning and How to Avoid Malpractice"; offered reasons why personal injury claimants and their attorneys need settlement planning advice from a qualified professional or team of professionals; and reviewed an example of a settlement plan. In addition, Meligan:
- Summarized three cases (Grillo; Lyons; and Spencer) to demonstrate why structured settlements need to be considered and risks associated with certain business behavior;
- Cited statistics from American Bar Association studies to underscore the frequency and risk of malpractice cases against personal injury attorneys;
- Spotlighted danger areas for plaintiff attorneys: MSP compliance; deductability of attorney fees; and documentation of confidentiality clauses; and
- Cautioned plaintiff attorneys against failing to retain an independent settlement advisor; or to advise their clients about all settlement options (including the pros and cons of structured settlements); or to completely document their files as proof of their best practices.
Professor Carl Pierce
Professor Pierce is the W. Allen Separk Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the Howard Baker, Jr. Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee. Among his professional activities, Professor Pierce has served as Reporter for the Tennessee Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professionalism and as Associate Reporter for the American Bar Association Special Commission on Evaluation of the Rules of Professional Conduct. During 2007-2008, Professor Pierce served as Consultant to the Society of Settlement Planners (SSP) and helped review and draft the SSP's Standards of Professional Conduct for Settlement Planners (SSP Standards).
Professor Pierce provided a summary comparative analysis of both the National Structured Settlement Trade Association (NSSTA) Statement of Ethics and Professional Responsibility (NSSTA Code of Ethics) and the SSP Standards. Despite substantial experience working with litigators, Professor Pierce acknowledged surprise by the degree of hostility between some plaintiff and defense structured settlement consultants. Professor Pierce:
- Observed that all law school graduates need some exposure to structured settlements and settlement planning;
- Suggested that the business collaboration models among insurance companies, plaintiff attorneys and settlement planners could look very different in the future; and
- Recommended that representatives of NSSTA and SSP meet to discuss and compare their respective statements of ethics and standards.
Congratulations to Richard Risk, the University of Tulsa College of Law and the guest speakers who participated in the Settlement Planning Practicum. S2KM understands that Tulsa College of Law will publish a video compilation of the practicum speaker presentations on YouTube.