Let’s set the record straight —HB 5419 — has NOTHING and I do mean NOTHING to do with funding of lawsuits. HB 5419 sets in place a set of guidelines that Consumer Legal Funding companies have to follow in Connecticut. It puts into place a clear structure, so that consumers know exactly what kind of funding agreement they are entering. The bill also creates a registration process with the state so that consumers know that they are dealing with reputable companies in the first place.
As Mr. Tony Sheridan notes in his op-ed, the traditional mission for a chamber of commerce is to promote the business community. And in Connecticut that often means the interests of the largest and most profitable insurance companies in the United States. On the surface, there is nothing wrong with that mission, but when chamber leaders like Mr. Sheridan start picking “winners and losers” in enterprise, you have to wonder about their real motivations.
This is why I find it interesting that Mr. Sheridan has openly attacked the Consumer Legal Funding industry. Consumer Legal Funding provides a valuable service to working-class Americans trying to survive a financial storm that is threatening to drown them in debt. They are often family members and your neighbor who are waiting, sometimes for years, to settle on an insurance claim while they are hurt or unable to work.
So why is the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce worried about a consumer getting a few hundred dollars to help pay for their mortgage, rent, or just put food on the table while they wait for the insurance company to determine what they deserve. It is called the “bottom line.”
The fact of the matter is Consumer Legal Funding is a financial lifeline for consumers and the insurance companies and their deep-pocketed lobbyists, want nothing more than to cut that lifeline as quickly as possible.
The real reason that chamber leaders do not want this bill to pass is so that the big insurance companies can continue to take advantage of the consumer, who by no fault of their own, gets thrust into a situation where they need to file a claim process. The insurance companies would like to string the consumer along and drag out the claim so that the consumers are so desperate that they have no choice but to settle prematurely.
Consumer Legal Funding gives the consumer the opportunity to stay afloat, to say to the big insurance company, “I do not have to take pennies on the dollar.” Like in the case of Tim Hilliker, who was injured in an explosion at the Middletown Clean Energy Plant and was hospitalized and unable to work. As Mr. Hiliker’s enormous medical bills began to pile up, his family was forced to burn through their savings and then sold many of the belongings in a painful attempt to make ends meet.
In testimony recently provided by Mr. Hiliker in Hartford, Tim recounted how he eventually turned to consumer legal funding to help keep his home and family together while he received medical care and waited for his settlement case to be properly resolved. Without the financial assistance he received from Consumer Legal Funding, Mr. Hiliker believes he and his family would have been homeless and broken apart.
HB 5419 is a sensible piece of legislation that will allow consumers, like Mr. Hiliker, to continue to have a lifeline when their lives are being thrown into chaos by the big insurance companies. Chamber leaders like Mr. Sheridan should recognize that and better evaluate how business can genuinely protect Connecticut’s consumers rather than take advantage of them.
State legislators need to vote “YES” on HB 5419 and help protect financially vulnerable consumers rather than the profit margins of big insurance companies.
Eric Schuller is the executive director of Alliance for Responsible Consumer Legal Funding.