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Chi-Chi's to Pay $800K for Hepatitis Shots

PITTSBURGH — Bankrupt Chi-Chi's Inc. and its subsidiaries have tentatively agreed to pay $800,000 to compensate nearly 9,500 people who got inoculated because of a hepatitis outbreak linked to a western Pennsylvania restaurant.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the class action settlement agreement, which must still be filed in federal bankruptcy court in Delaware, from William Marler, a Seattle attorney who represents the plaintiffs' class.

The victims will split $800,000, but how much each gets will be determined by how many of them eventually file claims with the court, Marler said. His firm will get a fee of $150,000, though Marler said that money would be donated to charity after his firm pays $50,000 in expenses spelled out in the deal.

"With class actions what's bothered me in the past is that everybody (the plaintiffs) gets a coupon and the lawyers get a million dollars," Marler said.

An attorney for Chi-Chi's declined comment on the deal, and referred questions to a Chi-Chi's spokesman who didn't immediately return calls.

Four people died and more than 650 people were sickened by tainted green onions served at the restaurant at Beaver Valley Mall in western Pennsylvania.

According to the document, 9,489 people got immune globulin shots from the Pennsylvania Department of Health after the outbreak was publicized in early November 2003. Health officials urged shots for family members of those sickened, as well as those who ate in the restaurant in the weeks leading up to the outbreak.

Marler's firm has crafted similar settlements in other large foodborne outbreaks. Typically, about 30 percent of those who got shots will file claims, Marler said. If that happens in this case, about 2,850 claims will be filed and each will be worth about $281.

Under the deal, Marler's firm will pay about $40,000 to publicize the settlement in various media. The firm also will pay the Health Department about $10,000 to notify all those who got a shot. The letters will advise them of a deadline that has yet to be determined.

Health Department spokesman Troy Thompson confirmed the department has agreed to work with Marler's firm to contact those who got shots. Chi-Chi's has previously reimbursed the state for the shots themselves, which cost about $90,000, Thompson said.

"This $800,000 is Chi-Chi's money ... so I have to give them a lot of credit for sort of stepping up and dealing with this," Marler said. "This wasn't covered by Chi-Chi's insurance."

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