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A defunct Portland, Ore., law firm has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a malpractice suit alleging that it conspired with a defendant to procure lower settlements for its clients. The charges against Bricker Zacovics Querin Thompson & Ritchey (BZQ) surfaced three years ago when 800 former clients joined in a class action accusing the firm of malpractice. In re Burlington, Northern MDL No. 1418 (W.D. Wash.). The former clients were railroad workers who alleged that BZQ had entered into a “secret agreement” with Burlington Northern & Sante Fe Railway Co. to settle their hearing loss claims at less than they were worth. Lawyers from BZQ, which is now dissolved, have adamantly denied the charges. Their lawyer said the defunct firm decided to settle because of depleted insurance money and the expense of litigation to defend itself further. “BZQ did a great job for its clients,” said the firm’s lawyer, Robert E. Maloney, a partner in the Portland office of Seattle-based Lane Powell Spears Lubersky. “But it’s a couple of years between trial and appeals to sustain the expense to take this thing through,” Maloney added. Former BZQ lawyers have opened a new Portland-based firm called Zakovics, Thompson & Ritchey. The firm that brought the lawsuit against BZQ was Seattle’s Hagens Berman. Lead lawyer Steve Berman said that despite BZQ’s denial of the charges, a federal judge in Seattle heard three days of depositions from a whistleblower, a former claims adjuster, and decided that there was enough evidence to take the case to a jury. 2,800 cases in wings Berman said they decided to settle with BZQ because the firm has no money, and they want to proceed with the 2,800 pending claims against Burlington Northern. Hagens Berman is representing all 2,800 railroad workers who were former clients of BZQ. Only 800 were certified in the class action against BZQ, due to the regional locations of the clients, said Berman. BZQ’s lawyer, Maloney, said that BZQ and Burlington Northern used an appropriate matrix based on early trial verdicts of the strongest liability claims to determine settlement amounts. This allowed for reduced discovery with Burlington Northern, and resulted in payouts to clients that were greater than the national average of what other law firms were getting for clients on similar claims. The BZQ settlement will nullify the agreements that BZQ clients signed barring them from pursuing future claims against the railroad. The Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund has agreed to pay two-thirds of the $1.5 million settlement amount. The court has given preliminary approval to the settlement, which is subject to a fairness hearing on Nov. 4. McAree’s e-mail address is [email protected].

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