Structured Settlements


Richard Risk

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Dick Risk knew there was something wrong with the way the insurance industry in general handled structured settlements. He was introduced to structured settlements some twenty-five years ago, when they were first coming into use. Soon after he placed his first annuity as a structured settlement consultant, he realized that many liability insurance companies and self-insured corporations who used structured settlements as a negotiating tool to settle physical injury claims were secretly profiting from them at the expense of the victims. When he became a vocal critic of his own industry, they ostracized him. Each time he attempted to clean up the industry through legislation, the powerful insurance lobbyists thwarted his efforts. Undaunted, Dick knew there was still one viable avenue available to him—the courts. But, there was a problem—he wasn’t a lawyer.

To resolve that issue, he entered law school at The University of Tulsa at age 57, as a part-time student, graduating three years later by spending his summers abroad, including TU’s study program in Dublin, Ireland. While in law school, he was an honor roll student, an intern for two judges and a law firm, a member of Phi Delta Phi legal honors fraternity, and on the staff of the Tulsa Law Review (nee Tulsa Law Journal), which published his comment, “Structured Settlements: The Ongoing Evolution from a Liability Insurer’s Ploy to an Injury Victim’s Boon,” 36 Tulsa L.J. 865 (2001). That article foretold what would become his mission as a lawyer. Too old at age 60 to join a law firm as a junior associate with the prospect of someday becoming a partner, Dick set out on his own as a solo practitioner.

While developing his nationwide niche law practice, he collected facts about the structured settlement industry and developed theories of damages to a class of people who had settled their injury claims and were cheated in the process. A couple years later, Dick was able to convince a class action firm of the merits of his case, and he signed three individuals as class representative plaintiffs. Eventually, the litigation team grew to four law firms, including Dick’s solo practice, and they filed a class action in U.S. District Court, District of Connecticut (Civ. No. 3:05-cv-01681-JCH), in late 2005 against one of the nation’s largest financial services groups, alleging mail and wire fraud and violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). After nearly five years of legal wrangling and a trip to the Second Circuit, U.S. Court of Appeals, where class certification was affirmed, and after two separate mediations earlier this year, the defendants maintain their innocence of wrongdoing, but they agreed to settle the claims of some 21,000-plus class members for $72.5 million. His class action lawsuit was followed by the insurer’s exit from the structured settlement annuity marketplace. Some other insurers have revised their structured settlement policies to allow plaintiffs more rights in structuring their settlements.

Dick is a 1963 graduate of Oklahoma State University, receiving a B.A. in Radio & Television, with postgraduate studies at Boston University (Public Communications), The University of Tulsa (Business Administration and Law) and the University of Oklahoma (Public Administration). He received a juris doctorate from The University of Tulsa College of Law in 2001 and is admitted to practice law in all federal and state jurisdictions in Oklahoma. He is certified by the Supreme Court of Oklahoma as a mediator. Prior to becoming an attorney, Dick served in the Senior Executive Service of the United States in a sub-Cabinet position as a bureau head in the administration of President Reagan. He was an executive with two publicly held corporations, and served as a staff officer, general’s aide and commander in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam era, receiving multiple decorations for meritorious service and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for a squadron that he commanded in Thailand.