In the late-'80s and early '90s, thousands of children living in Baltimore tenements were being diagnosed with lead poisoning every year. Two decades later, the Washington Post digs into the "little-noticed, effectively unregulated netherworld of structured settlements"—and the structured settlement companies that are making millions of dollars off these victims and others like them. While regular settlements are paid out in one lump sum, structured settlements come in installments doled out each month for decades, the intention being that such an approach safeguards against "vulnerable recipients" blowing all the money. Structured settlement companies offer these recipients that lump sum in exchange for them signing over their settlement. The payout is generally pennies on the dollar.
The Post tells of a 20-year-old woman with irreparable brain damage due to lead paint exposure who sold 35 years of her future checks—ultimately worth more than half a million dollars—for less than $63,000. Advocates for these companies say they provide people in need with fast cash for bills, food, and school. "We really do try to get people the best deals," one CEO tells the Post. Looking at that CEO's company, Access Funding, the Post found it often pays 33 cents on the dollar of the current value of the structured settlement. But not always. One 24-year-old lead victim got only 9 cents on the dollar. Freddie Gray and his siblings sold their lead-poisoning settlements to Access Funding for 20 cents on the dollar. Advocates claim the victims are being misled and lack the mental abilities to enter into these agreements. Read the eye-opening article in full. (Read more Baltimore stories.)