As the 2016 legislative session nears, an interesting development occurred in Colorado over an issue that the Indiana Chamber has been working on for the last several years. This week, the Colorado Supreme Court determined that the practice of litigation finance, or more commonly referred to as “lawsuit lending”, was determined to be a loan and subject to Colorado’s Uniform Consumer Credit Code (UCCC).
Lawsuit lending is the practice of advancing money to a plaintiff/someone involved in an accident in anticipation of winning a lawsuit in court. If the plaintiff is awarded a settlement, the advance must be repaid at considerably high interest rates. If the plaintiff loses the suit, there is no obligation to repay the loan.
Proponents of the industry have claimed that the advance is not a loan because there is no recourse if the suit is lost. Opponents (including the Indiana Chamber) believe that this process interjects a third party into the civil justice system and prolongs the settlement process.
The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision puts lower interest rate limits on the advance of these loans. Two companies doing business in Colorado stopped operating in 2010 after the state office that regulates Colorado’s UCCC determined that the state law applies to their businesses. After the two companies filed suit to overturn the regulatory opinion, the state attorney general’s office countersued. The companies were accused of unlicensed lending and charging “exorbitant” interest rates to plaintiffs.
In conclusion, the Colorado Supreme Court wrote: “We hold that litigation finance companies that agree to advance money to tort plaintiffs in exchange for future litigation proceeds are making ‘loans’ subject to Colorado’s UCCC even if the plaintiffs do not have an obligation to repay any deficiency if the litigation proceeds are ultimately less than the amount due. These transactions create a debt or an obligation to repay that grows with the passage of time. We agree with the court of appeals that these transactions are ‘loans’
under the code…”
Attempts to regulate the practice have been unsuccessful in Indiana. Hoosier proponents of the practice have indicated that subjecting finance companies to the UCCC in Indiana or subjecting them to an interest rate of less than 45% will put them out of business, so there has not been language that could bring about a compromise. The Indiana House of Representatives has passed a bill for several years that the Chamber has supported. However, the Senate has sided with the lenders and stifled the Chamber’s attempts to forward our position.
Still, the Colorado Supreme Court decision might be a game-changer in Indiana. It would not be surprising to see legislation introduced that will mirror what happened in Colorado. Last session, a similar measure was inserted as an amendment into a bill that came over from the House. The language was removed on the Senate floor before a vote was taken. Legislation this session that would be tied to Indiana’s UCCC should be assigned to the House Financial Institutions Committee, where it will find support.
Likewise, any bill tied to the UCCC should be sent to the Senate Insurance and Financial Institutions, chaired by Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Markle), where it would most likely find support. However, the issue historically has not been tied to the UCCC and has been assigned to the Civil Law Committee, where Sen. Joe Zakas (R-Granger) is chair. Senator Zakas has not been supportive of the Chamber’s lawsuit lending position.
The Chamber anticipates further debate on this issue as the new legislative session unfolds.