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Maryland Lead Poisoning Victims May Have Been Bilked Out Of Millions, State AG Says

Maryland’s Attorney General is appealing a structured settlement paid out to victims of lead paint poisoning, claiming an entire generation of youth has been cheated out of millions of dollars. 

Attorney General Brian Frosh claims a Chevy Chase company deceptively funneled victims of lead paint poisoning to a third party company it was working closely with to cash out long-term structured settlements for lead paint exposure to save millions of dollars in settlement money, according to a Washington Post story..

From 2013 through 2015, Access Funding arranged structured settlements with victims of lead paint poisoning, to be paid out in small increments over the next few decades. With many of the victims being children, the structured settlements were set up to avoid them spending their money all at once.

With nearly $18 million dollars awarded to approximately 100 Maryland residents, more than 70% of the class of people were victims of childhood lead poisoning.

Frosh claims Access Funding bombarded the victims with calls and texts offering quick cash payouts for a fraction of the settlement portion due. The investigation details how Access Funding directed the victims to a lawyer who was supposed to provide independent advice, but rather was actually working closely with Access Funding’s management team.

Frosh called these practices deceptive and a direct attempt to take advantage of the lead paint poisoning victims, many of whom are mentally impaired, to cash out their long term settlements for significantly smaller portions.

Frosh’s office filed a motion to appeal the settlements. The motion details how the deceptive payouts worked and how much money victims lost.

For example, two Maryland sisters who were awarded $435,000 for their lead paint settlement were offered only $54,000 as an alternative quick cash payout.

The motion also includes details of how Access Funding advertised cash-out options aimed at “lead paint virgins”; families of people who received settlements and had not yet sold them to another company. Access Funding reportedly posted 22 billboards throughout the city in the course of one month in 2013, urging victims to “GET CASH NOW.”

The Post reported that, within the company’s manual, employees of Access Funding were instructed to remember that their customers “Do not generally have peace of mind in their lives that comes with financial stability” and to “Take this as a positive and take full advantage”. The employee manual also made reference to the employees that “You are their savior” according to the story.

Frosh’s office may file lawsuits on behalf of the victims who were deceived by Access Funding’s practices, although under the terms of the settlement, plaintiff’s released claims filed by the Attorney General and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2016, meaning they cannot receive additional restitution.

Lead Exposure Health Concerns

Lead poisoning among children has been a serious health concern nationwide for decades, as it is known to increase the risk of nervous system injury, brain damage, seizures or convulsions, growth or mental retardation, coma and even death. Childhood lead poisoning is considered the most preventable environmental disease among young children.

One of the more common causes of of lead poisoning is lead-based paint, which was banned in the United States in 1978 due to the risk of severe and permanent brain damage and developmental problems, particularly in children. However, a number of older homes still contain the toxic paint on the walls, and if it flakes or peals off, young children could ingest the paint chips or breathe dust that comes from the paint, resulting in lead poisoning.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 535,000 children ages 1-5, or about 2.6% of such children in the U.S., have levels of lead in their blood that place them at risk for adverse health effects. To come up with that number, the CDC analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from the years 1999 to 2002, and 2007 through 2010.

The majority of those children are poor and live in older urban areas, mainly in the inner city. Most are minorities, meaning such exposures add to numerous problems already plaguing inner city black and Latino youths, such as poverty, high crime and poor schools.

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