Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Structured Settlements: A Barrier to Social Justice?

Now more than ever, governments worldwide are forced to choose between the welfare of their citizens or in maintaining the “bottom line” of corporate entities.

By: Ringo Bones and Vanessa Uy

American social justice crusader Michael Moore had criticized structured settlements in his documentary “Bowling for Columbine” citing that -in practice- it is pro-corporation and anti-corporate victim. In the recent Heiligendamm G8, ATTAC-the anti G8 pressure group-are very clear on where they stand on the issue of structured settlements with their motto that states: “The world is not for sale.” But what is a “structured settlement”? A structured settlement is a financial or insurance arrangement- including periodic payments- that a claimant accepts to resolve a personal injury tort claim or to compromise a statutory periodic payment obligation. Structured settlements were first utilized in the US and Canada during the 1970’s as an alternative to lump sum settlements. Structured settlement payments are sometimes called “periodic payments.” A structured settlement that is incorporated into a trial judgment is called “periodic payment judgment.” Almost instantly after being instituted by the major economic powers in their judicial system, structured settlements were later adopted by London, Australia and the rest of the “Industrialized West.” If this form of settlement is being widely adopted by the Western World, then conventional wisdom dictates that this is a good thing – right?

In practice, the equitability of structured settlements break down when the claimant has became terminally ill and doesn’t have much time to live. This works in favor of the corporation responsible for the said injury/damage to the health and well being of the plaintiff. Back in June 2007, the BBC reported on a court appeal in the US to pay compensation to Vietnamese citizens affected by the defoliant “Agent Orange” then in use during the Vietnam War. The claimants lost on the first round of court hearings, but they vow to persevere.

Basing on what we currently know about the “Agent Orange” issue, the Vietnamese victims of the said defoliant face an uphill battle. Since the manufacturers of the “Agent Orange” used during the Vietnam War – DOW Chemical Corporation and Monsanto Corporation – have close ties to the powers-that-be on the Pentagon and Capitol Hill. Even though -at present- DOW and Monsanto are currently involved with structured settlements with American Troops who became chronically ill and developed cancer while being exposed to “Agent Orange” during their “Tour of Duty” in Vietnam during the 1960’s.

DOW and Monsanto’s “delay tactics” will only do the company favors since their yet-to-be-recognized claimants are slowly dying out. This might not pass as justice to most of us civilized folks, but it’s the law!

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