A structured settlement is a financial or insurance arrangement whereby a claimant agrees to resolve a personal injury tort claim by receiving periodic payments on an agreed schedule rather than as a lump sum. Structured settlements were first utilized in Canada after a settlement for children affected by Thalidomide. Structured settlements are widely used in product liability or injury cases (such as the birth defects from Thalidomide). A structured settlement can be implemented to reduce legal and other costs by avoiding trial. Structured settlement cases became more popular in the United States during the 1970s as an alternative to lump sum settlements. The increased popularity was due to several rulings by the IRS, an increase in personal injury awards, and higher interest rates. The IRS rulings changed policies such that if certain requirements were met then claimants could have federal income tax waived. Higher interest rates result in lower present values, hence annuity premiums, for deferred payments versus a lump sum.
Structured settlements have become part of the statutory tort law of several common law countries including Australia, Canada, England and the United States. Structured settlements may include income tax and spendthrift requirements as well as benefits and are considered to be an asset-backed security. Often the periodic payment will be created through the purchase of one or more annuities, which guarantee the future payments. Structured settlement payments are sometimes called periodic payments and when incorporated into a trial judgment is called a “periodic payment judgment.”
In the United States
The United States has enacted structured settlement laws and regulations at both the federal and state levels. Federal structured settlement laws include sections of the (federal) Internal Revenue Code. State structured settlement laws include structured settlement protection statutes and periodic payment of judgment statutes. Forty-seven of the states have structured settlement protection acts created using a model promulgated by the National Conference of Insurance Legislators (“NCOIL”). Of the 47 states, 37 are based in whole or in part on the NCOIL model act. Medicaid and Medicare laws and regulations affect structured settlements. To preserve a claimant’s Medicare and Medicaid benefits, structured settlement payments may be incorporated into “Medicare Set Aside Arrangements” “Special Needs Trusts.”
Structured settlements have been endorsed by many of the nation’s largest disability rights organizations, including the American Association of People with Disabilities and the National Organization on Disability.