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Liars, Damn Liars, Defamation, and Double Taxation

Overview

In the current digital and highly charged political age, the power of words has never been more salient.

It has become all too commonplace for words to be used as weapons for making untrue statements about a person or entity. A single untrue utterance can ripple through society casting shadows of controversy and sometimes engendering significant legal implications. Unfortunately, because of the plaintiff double tax, defamation victims suffered twice: first by the defamation itself and second by how their litigation recovery is taxed.

What is the plaintiff double tax?

Commissioner v. Banks is a Supreme Court case that addressed the question of whether, for federal income tax purposes, the taxable components of a judgment or settlement paid to a taxpayer's attorney under a contingent fee agreement is taxable income to the taxpayer. Having to pay taxes on the total value of the award where the related attorney fee is not deductible is the plaintiff's double tax.

Assume a defamation victim lives in New York City and recovers $1,500,000 in non-physical injury and emotional distress damages and an additional $1,500,000 In punitive damages. The entire $3 million of gross settlement proceeds are taxable to the plaintiff, but none of the attorney fees are deductible. Worst yet, with New York city taxes, the plaintiff ends up with a net of only $300,000. After tax, that is only 10 cents on the dollar.

A defamation victim seeking to avoid this unfortunate scenario created by Banks might consider a plaintiff recovery trust (PRT), a specially designed trust that exists to hold the litigation claim. If there is a successful recovery, the PRT will significantly increase the net after-tax recovery, perhaps by 100% or more, depending on the recovery amount and where the defamation victim is domiciled.

Disclosure: This content is an overview. It is not a detailed analysis and offers no legal or tax opinion on which you should solely rely. Always seek the advice of competent legal and tax advisors to review your specific facts and circumstances before making any decisions or relying on the content herein.
Any opinions, views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the content contained herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Eastern Point Trust Company, its Affiliates, or their clients. The mere appearance of content does not constitute an endorsement by Eastern Point Trust Company (“EPTC”) or its Affiliates. The author’s opinions are based upon information they consider reliable, but neither EPTC nor its Affiliates, nor the company with which such author(s) are affiliated, warrant completeness, accuracy or disclosure of opposing interpretations.

EPTC and its Affiliates disclaim all liability to any party for any direct, indirect, implied, special, incidental, or other consequential damages arising directly or indirectly from any use of the content herein, which is expressly provided as is, without warranties.
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