Book Review: The Art of Settlement

Although the personal injury settlement planning profession now offers plaintiff attorneys, and its own members, an increasing variety of educational resources, few guides to regulatory compliance currently exist – and those that do tend to be specialized.

Robert Wood has authored definitive legal textbooks about “Taxation of Damage Awards and Settlement Payments” as well as “Qualified Settlement Funds and Section 468B”. This writer has co-authored “Structured Settlements and Periodic Payment Judgements” with Daniel Hindert  and Joseph Dehner. Numerous special needs attorneys have authored textbooks about special needs trusts. In addition, Traci Kaas has recently written a book advising personal injury settlement recipients.

Jason Lazarus, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Synergy Settlements, has now joined this group of authors and filled an important settlement planning void with his newly published “The Art of Settlement: A Lawyer’s Guide to Regulatory Compliance when Resolving Catastrophic Claims.

Although Jason’s book targets personal injury attorneys, it also represents a valuable learning resource for other professionals whose practice focuses on settlement planning – including members of the Society of Settlement Planners (SSP); the National Structured Settlement Trade Association (NSSTA); and the National Association of Medicare Set-Aside Professionals (NAMSAP); as well as the three national associations of special needs attorneys.

Jason uses the term “settlement consulting” to describe his chosen profession which he describes in his book as “[t]he [complex] intersection of taxation of damages, public benefit preservation, Medicare Secondary Payer compliance, trusts, liens, and the financial options.” Note: because most industry professionals use the term “settlement planning”, Independent Life generally uses that term rather than “settlement consulting” although we consider the two words synonymous.

And Jason would appear to be uniquely qualified, professionally and personally, to write this 189-page book, which he significantly subtitles: “A Lawyers Guide to Regulatory Compliance When Resolving Catastrophic Claims.

Not only are Jason’s professional credentials among the most distinguished within the settlement planning industry, Jason and his Synergy partners have developed one of the most creative, entrepreneurial business models in our market.

What makes Jason truly unique among his professional peers, however, results from his 2016 catastrophic injury, his recovery including nine days in ICU with a medically-induced five-day coma, and how he resolved his own claim with a structured settlement and settlement trust – a story Jason details in the book’s introduction – which adds personal knowledge, and presumably empathy, to Jason’s professional expertise.

Jason’s book, which benefits accordingly, consists of 19 substantive chapters of which the majority (14) address public benefit preservation or lien resolution issues and eight (8) of these 14 chapters focus more specifically on Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) issues.

Of the remaining five chapters: one discusses “Ethical Issues at Settlement”; one (titled “Protecting the Recovery”) examines “Structured Settlements”; one considers “Advanced Settlement Planning Techniques and Real-World Applications.” one addresses “Qualified Settlement Funds (QSFs)”; and one explains “Attorney Fee Deferrals”.

Why is Jason’s book important – and why should you read it?

If you are a personal injury attorney or settlement planning professional, Jason’s book has multiple relative strengths and educational value compared with any other available resources with which this writer is familiar.

First, following an introductory chapter, Jason’s book provides a valuable discussion about “Ethical Issues at Settlement”. In this chapter, Jason:

  • Highlights provisions within the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct he believes are particularly relevant to the personal injury lawyer’s advisement obligations when it comes to consulting on the form or structure of a disabled injury victim’s recovery.
  • Discusses the Grillo case and concludes: “Grillo’s message to plaintiff lawyers is to employ or consult competent experts in taxation, trusts, and structured settlements prior to distributing any funds to the injury victim.
  • References a 2003 American Bar Association report on the Profile of Legal Malpractice Claims wherein personal injury lawyers made up the largest percentage of malpractice claims and advice and settlement/negotiation made up over 23 percent of the claims overall – from which Jason opines: “While the report does not specify, it is logical to conclude that claims of failing to give advice about financial options, taxation of damages, and preservation of public benefits would squarely fall within the purview of advice as well as settlement/negotiation malpractice claims.

Second, Jason’s summary and analysis of lien resolution issues is a remarkable accomplishment. The topic is rarely addressed so comprehensively and understandably. Jason’s book clearly explains each of the following types of liens: Medicaid, Medicare conditional payments, Part C Medicare Advantage, ERISA, Federal Employee Health Benefit and Military.

Third, Jason devotes eight chapters of his book to the Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) Act. This detailed discussion addresses: a summary of the Act; mandatory insurer reporting; Medicare conditional payments; Part C Medicare Advantage liens; and multiple chapters on both Medicare futures and compliance.

Fourth, Jason’s final substantive chapter offers an excellent summary analysis of Attorney Fee Deferral at a time when this particular structured settlement sub-market has become increasingly important for both plaintiff attorneys and settlement planning professionals.

Jason, of course, addresses significant issues in other chapters. Some of these topics, however, like QSFs and structured settlements have been addressed in greater detail by other writers. Other topics, such as Jason’s chapters on “Overview of Public Assistance Programs” and “Understanding Dual Eligibility” are well-written if you are not already familiar with the general issues.

Although his target audience is personal injury attorneys, Jason’s book should benefit all professional settlement planners including those responsible for planning future educational programs and evaluating their associations’ certification programs. In addition, Jason’s book may also help emphasize the need within the legal profession for further definition, specialization and education about comprehensive personal injury settlement law.