Lead-poisoning settlement deals draw scrutiny, calls for reform
By Timothy B. Wheeler and John Fritze, http://www.baltimoresun.com/
Maryland lawmakers vowed Thursday to investigate and clamp down on companies that “buy” lawsuit settlements after learning that hundreds of lead-poisoning victims in Baltimore had signed away their court-approved rights to long-term financial support in return for quick cash worth only a fraction of what they were due.
Attorney General Brian E. Frosh said his office would work to strengthen Maryland’s law regulating purchases of so-called “structured settlements” when the General Assemblymeets in January. But he also pledged to investigate the companies involved and go after them if his staff determines they broke the law as it stands now.
“We want to be able to take action to protect people from this kind of scam and see if we can help the folks that have already been victimized,” Frosh said.
State legislators and members of Maryland’s congressional delegation joined in expressing dismay and pledging change in reaction to a Washington Post report this week on companies that struck deals with lead-poisoning victims to swap guaranteed regular payments over years for much smaller one-time payouts.
One lead-poisoning victim has filed a lawsuit in Baltimore Circuit Court saying she had been misled into agreeing to such a deal.
Baltimore lawyer Saul Kerpelman said he brought the case because he considers such settlement transfers “obscene.” Kerpelman, who’s represented thousands of families in lead-poisoning lawsuits, said the companies are undoing financial arrangements specifically crafted to give victims a long-term stream of income, rather than a big one-time payout. Read more