Congress’ duty to investigate structured settlement fraud

Thirty years ago, a bipartisan coalition led by Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) had a noble concept to help accident victims protect their financial security. Instead of a lump sum when settling an accident claim, Congress gave injury victims the option of a guaranteed stream of tax-free income.

Unfortunately, Congress’ good intention with these structured settlements has devolved into a system of deception and financial swindling. Recently, nearly 1,500 accident victims and people with disabilities lost nearly a billion dollars in promised future payments.  

{mosads}I am one of the victims in this massive fraud. Many years ago, my husband was killed in an auto accident that was not his fault. I instantly became a single mother with three young children totally dependent on me.

At settlement, the defense team gave me its proposed structured settlement payment terms.  It was “take it or leave it.” I could not negotiate and was never allowed to choose the insurance company that would fund my lifetime payments.

This insurance company, Executive Life of New York, recently went into liquidation. My structured settlement payments have suddenly been cut by almost 60 percent. My entire life has changed and the emotional ordeal is devastating.  

In contrast, the consultant who set me up with the structured settlement pocketed a huge, undisclosed fee and has so far escaped any responsibility.

It is urgent that Congress investigate the deception that brought this harm to me and so many other accident survivors and people with disabilities.  

The first place to start is with the nation’s largest structured settlement companies, Ringler Associates and EPS Settlements. Consultants with both companies were paid undisclosed commissions for setting up these structured settlements. 

Their actions created much of today’s problems because Executive Life was not licensed in many states where annuitants lived. I am a longtime Texas resident but the insurance company was never registered here.  As a result, more than a dozen state Guaranty Associations, which are supposed to protect insurance customers the way the FDIC protects bank accounts, did not contribute as much as consumers deserved to the liquidation fund.  

Another example of how the deck has been stacked against accident survivors involves the structured settlement industry’s DC-based trade association.  It has long claimed to be a voice in support of people with disabilities.  Yet for nearly a decade, it knew about ELNY’s severe financial problems and did absolutely nothing to warn those of us at risk.  

At least two class action lawsuits against structured settlement companies have been filed with more lawsuits likely.  As attorney Edward Stone, an expert in structured settlement law, notes, “The idea of an insurance agent selling an unregistered structured settlement annuity to accident survivors during their greatest financial vulnerability is duplicitous.  Concealing known risks from victims who need lifetime care is appalling.”  

Grassley, who authored the tax code change that recognized and encouraged structured settlements, has a reputation for tenaciously investigating financial deception. Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.), the only paraplegic ever to serve in Congress, chose a structured settlement after his spinal injury.

Both officials, as well as leaders as diverse as Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), should investigate how structured settlements could have become a billion-dollar fraud on so many innocent victims.

Congress surely never counted that the system it set up to help innocent people would instead ruin their lives while enriching outside consultants.  It is time for Congress to investigate!

Dunn-Bradford is a structured settlement beneficiary who lives in Desoto, Texas.

Tags Charles Grassley Elizabeth Warren John Cornyn Max Baucus

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