Frequently Asked Questions

What are the benefits of a structured settlement over a lump-sum payment?

A long-term structured settlement has several advantages. First, there is security. A structured settlement provides guaranteed long-term income that gives the injured party or their family the ability to recover without spending time and resources determining investment strategies.

A second benefit is financial. When Congress amended the federal tax code to encourage structured settlements, it explicitly provided that 100 percent of every structured settlement payment would be exempt from federal and state income taxes.

Structured settlements are the "intelligent, smart" choice, says U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney. Listen to this former victim's rights attorney tell why he encouraged the family of an 8-year-old burn victim to take a structured settlement.

What kind of flexibility do I have in setting up a structured settlement?

Structures are exceptionally flexible and can be designed for virtually any set of needs. A relatively simple payment schedule can be set up that provides for equal payments at set intervals - for example, every month for 20 years.

Payments do not have to be in equal amounts. Someone who will need a new wheelchair every three years might elect to receive a larger payment every 36 months to help defray the cost (this would presumably be in addition to the regular payments).

A structured settlement's inherent flexibility means that it is well-suited to compensate people for a wide variety of injuries and subsequent needs. Your attorney or a structured settlement consultant will be able to explain additional details as they apply to your particular case.

Why were structured settlements created?

Historically, damages paid because of an injury lawsuit came in the form of a single lump sum. This kind of payment, especially in catastrophic injury cases, often placed the injured party and their family in a difficult financial position. With the victim focused on adapting to a new lifestyle, there often was not the time nor knowledge to manage large sums of money.

That can lead to serious trouble. A person who loses funds intended to cover a lifetime of medical care runs the risk of losing medical care and ultimately their independence. They also risk winding up on public assistance. For this reason, in 1982, a bipartisan coalition of legislators in Congress came together to pass legislation that amended the federal tax code. Their action, The Periodic Payment Settlement Act of 1982 (Public Law 97-473), formally recognized and encouraged the use of structured settlements in physical injury cases.

Who determines the amount of payments and the payment schedule?

In any physical injury case, the plaintiff and defendant negotiate issues such as the victim's medical care and basic living and family needs. Oftentimes, one side (or both) will bring in an expert, such as a structured settlement broker, who provides calculations on the long-term cost of these needs.

When there is agreement on the benefits due to the injured party (which can happen before, during or after a lawsuit), the defendant will agree to fund a stream of periodic payments that meet these needs. The defendant then assigns this obligation to an experienced third party, such as a highly rated life insurance company, that funds the periodic payment obligation with an annuity.

An annuity has been the preferred way of funding because of its pricing and flexibility. An alternative is a trust fund which invests only in United States Treasuries.

As these issues involve complex calculations, you should always consult your attorney and a structured settlement consultant.

Many accident victims donʼt appreciate the roles that risk and volatility have in investing. Short-term volatility, particularly in the early years, can put your future funding at risk. With a structured settlement, you donʼt have that problem.

Frank Reilly,
Professor of Finance
University of Notre Dame Business School

Are structured settlements more likely to be used in certain types of cases?

Structured settlements can be ideally suited for many types of cases, including:

  • Persons with temporary or permanent disabilities;
  • Guardianship cases that may involve minors or persons found to be incompetent;
  • Workers' Compensation cases;
  • Wrongful death cases where the surviving spouse and/or children need monthly or annual income; 
  • Severe injury, especially with long-term needs for medical care, living expenses and support of family;

Independent surveys show that the more serious the injury, the greater the likelihood that a structured settlement will be part of the settlement plan.

I'm involved in a lawsuit now. Why should I consider a structured settlement?

The tax-free payments from a structured settlement can:

  • Relieve the financial pressures of medical expenses and living needs;
  • Meet long-term rehabilitation or permanent care facility expenses;
  • Provide for the future costs of college funds, retirement, down payment on a home, or mortgage payment; and
  • Provide long-term financial security.

Someone has offered to purchase my structured settlement payments. What should I know before I do this?

It is important that you seek the advice of a trusted attorney. If you do not have an attorney, you may wish to call the attorney who originally negotiated your case. If you cannot reach that person, you might also consider contacting the office of your state's attorney general.

In recent years, 46 states and the Federal Government have enacted consumer protection statutes that establish strict conditions for these transactions. Under the federal law, court oversight and approval are required for structured settlement payees who chose to sell payment rights from a structured settlement to a third-party company.

Also, advocates for consumers and the disabled have publicly called attention to the practices of firms engaged in the purchase of structured settlement payment rights. These groups include the Consumer Federation of America, The National Spinal Cord Injury Association, and the National Organization on Disability.