Hagens Berman Celebrates 25 Years of Leading the Plaintiffs’ Bar

SEATTLE – One of the nation’s leading plaintiffs’ class-action law firms, Hagens Berman, is celebrating 25 years of groundbreaking cases, record settlements and life-changing results.

The firm’s co-founder and managing partner, Steve W. Berman, has led the Seattle-based firm through from humble beginnings and bet-the-farm risks to its position now as a pace-setting leader that has been part of the largest antitrust, automotive and securities cases on record, having secured a firm place in history with its role in the $206 billion settlement with Big Tobacco in 1996 – the largest settlement ever.

“We both are proud and fortunate to celebrate this milestone in our firm’s journey by ushering in our busiest year yet,” Berman said. “A quarter of a century of hard work and vociferous action has led Hagens Berman to new endeavors and significant growth both in resources and in the strength of our team.”

Starting Out

Seattle has a long history as a pioneer town – from early adventurers hunting for a part of the Wild West Gold Rush, to innovative thinkers searching for the limits of aerospace and computer technology. It’s no surprise that Hagens Berman began its story in the Emerald City.

“There were moments when we were first started out, where we knew it was all-or-nothing,” Berman said. When he first carried the Big Tobacco case as special assistant attorney general for the states of Washington, Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, New York, Alaska, Idaho, Ohio, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, Vermont and Rhode Island, Hagens Berman was in its infancy, in a cramped office in downtown Seattle. The firm’s veteran attorneys recall the high-stakes risk of taking on the case that would result in the largest settlement ever in history.

“We had folks taking out reverse mortgages on their homes to keep the firm going,” Berman said. “It’s that kind of dedication – the willingness to live and breathe a case – that was and still remains our firm’s foundation.”

Since its initial successes Hagens Berman has been fortunate enough to see that initial drive, courage and determination pay off.

“Hagens Berman doesn’t succeed unless the millions of plaintiffs – the homeowners, the average consumers, the whistleblowers – we’ve represented in 25 years succeed,” Berman said. “Now, the everyday person is faced with loosening regulations, rising corporate corruption and fewer safeguards in place to protect his or her interest. Now, it is more important than ever to hold the powerful accountable.”

25 Years of Setting the Pace

Hagens Berman’s culture places a premium on identifying and bringing innovative claims, efficiently prosecuting cases, and committing to follow through to the (sometimes bitter) end to ensure a fair outcome for the class members it represents. In a world where most class-action attorneys rake in millions compared to the chump-change checks mail to plaintiffs, Hagens Berman sets itself apart.

“I knew early on that class-action cases were what I wanted to work on, simply because if you succeed, you have the ability to help an incredible number of people,” Berman said. “But we do it in a way that’s truly meaningful. The north star at our firm is that we prefer losing and going down with the ship when it is a righteous case rather than folding to salvage some modicum of payment which yields an unfair discount to the classes we represent.”

Some of the firm’s standout cases have included:

  • Hungarian Gold Train – Class-action lawsuit in Miami in 2001 related to the Nazis seizure of a train of stolen Jewish possession from Jews living in Hungary. As part of the class action, the law firm created an online database so the items could be identified. The database helped to create more than 6,000 descriptions and photos of the stolen property.
  • NCAA – The firm has brought multiple groundbreaking cases against the NCAA. Suits have involved name-and-likeness rights as well as, more recently, scholarship caps. A $209 million settlement is currently pending, which will return an average $6,000 for student-athletes who played for four years of Division 1 sports at an NCAA member school for its anticompetitive practices capping scholarships.
  • Concussions – The firm also achieved a monumental concussions settlement that will provide a 50-year medical-monitoring program for an estimated 4.4 million current and former student-athletes to screen for and track head injuries, and will make sweeping changes to the NCAA’s concussions protocols and treatment. U.S. Soccer also faced sweeping changes thanks to the firm’s work: a settlement reached in 2015 eliminating heading the ball for soccer’s youngest players and greatly diminishing risks of youth concussions and traumatic head injuries.
  • Enron – Represented Enron employees who had their retirement accounts wiped out byEnron’s fraud in the largest ERISA settlement in U.S. history.
  • MadoffRepresented Bernard L. Madoff investors in a suit filed against JPMorgan Chase Bank, one of the largest banks in the world, and reached a $218 million settlement.
  • Schwab –Hagens Berman served as court-appointed lead counsel in a suit allegingSchwab falsely marketed its YieldPlus Fund as a safe money market alternative, resulting in a $235 million settlement.
  • Big Tobacco – Steve Berman served as special assistant attorney general for 13 states. In November 1998, the initial proposed settlement led to a multi-state settlement requiring the tobacco companies to pay the states $206 billion and to submit to broad advertising and marketing restrictions – the largest civil settlement in history.
  • Toyota Unintended Acceleration – Involved a defect in dozens of models spanning an 8-year period, resulted in a $1.6 billion settlement, the largest auto settlement ever, at the time.
  • Diesel Emissions – Hagens Berman was the first firm in the nation to file a lawsuit against Volkswagen for its emissions fraud and was named to the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee leading the national fight against VW, Porsche and Audi. Since this firstemissions-cheating suit, the firm has dedicated its resources to independently uncovering additional instances.
  • Apple e-BooksFought against Apple and five of the nation’s top publishers for colluding to raise the price of e-books, securing a $400 million settlement, with the potential to repay class members twice the amount of damages suffered.

The Journey Continues

Berman likes to think of Hagens Berman’s 25 years in terms that are familiar to him: a cycling race. The firm sponsors three competitive cycling teams, all of which have achieved local, regional and national success, highlighting its managing partner’s beloved pastime and sport.

“It has been quite a journey, and as in cycling, there is nowhere to go but onward,” Berman said. “Cycling’s best and bravest know it well: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s about progressing the sport. For us, it’s about moving the bar forward – the plaintiffs’ bar.”

As it rounds out its first quarter-century birthday, the firm looks to pioneering new areas of practice in the realm of class actions: sexual harassment, environmental law and emissions cases.

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About Hagens Berman
Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is a consumer-rights class-action law firm with 11 offices across the country. The firm has been named to the National Law Journal’s Plaintiffs’ Hot List eight times. More about the law firm and its successes can be found at www.hbsslaw.com. Follow the firm for updates and news at @ClassActionLaw.


Media Contact
Ashley Klann
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