It was a great example of civil justice at work: A group of young adults won a class-action lawsuit after being poisoned by lead paint in old Baltimore row houses. Many of them received structured settlements from the case, meant to provide them with guaranteed payments and future financial security. But as they awaited their structured settlement payments, one company sought those plaintiffs out and coerced them into selling their payments for far less than they were worth. Access Funding obtained the rights to future settlement payments worth nearly $18 million from 100 Maryland residents — many of whom were suffering from disabilities from their lead poisoning — for pennies on the dollar. Now, a lawsuit is aiming to get the plaintiffs their money back.
In January 2019, Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh filed suit against Access Funding, a company he says preyed on plaintiffs who received structured settlement payments from the Baltimore lead paint class action. In April 2019, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals gave the green light on cases seeking to require Access Funding to give that money back to the victims.
According to the investigation, Access Funding convinced “lead paint virgins” to agree to sell their Maryland structured settlements for cash. The company searched for the victims through aggressive marketing practices, urging them to sell structured settlement payments for upfront cash — even if they had no pressing financial need. For example, Access posted 22 billboards around Baltimore over the course of one month in 2013, urging victims of lead poisoning to “GET CASH NOW.” The company then bought the rights to victims’ future payments at a steep discount, leaving them with way less money and without the safety net of the future payments they previously relied on.
It’s not just Attorney General Frosh who is after Access Funding for the way it treated this group of vulnerable people. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) also has a case pending against Access for what it calls an illegal scheme. The Bureau’s complaint alleges that the defendants violated laws that prohibit unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices. For example, Access steered the plaintiffs toward a sham financial advisor who provided no actual advice and took advantage of their cognitive impairments and lack of understanding.
People need the ability to sell their structured settlement payments for cash, but they deserve the right to work with a company that operates fairly, transparently, and ethically. Unfortunately, some companies put their own interests first, which casts doubt on the entire industry. We at CrowFly commend the efforts of Attorney General Frosh and the CFPB in voicing the unfair treatment of the lead paint plaintiffs and advocating for recourse against Access Funding.