Road warrior

Attorney's product liability cases take him to more than 25 states

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Attorney Michael Fawaz may owe his legal career to the fictional TV lawyer Ben Matlock portrayed by actor Andy Griffith.

"As a child, I was considered odd while other friends watched sports or silly television shows, I was glued to 'Matlock,' 'Law & Order,' 'The Practice' and other similar legal shows," Fawaz says. "I knew from the time I was in elementary school that I wanted to be a lawyer. I liked arguing and law seemed like a natural fit."

Fawaz quickly learned that a trial lawyer's work is nothing like it is portrayed on television.

"Being a trial lawyer takes a lot of patience. On TV, in a matter of days, an event occurs, a lawsuit is filed, a case goes to trial, and a jury reaches a dramatic verdict. In reality, being a trial lawyer, particularly in civil litigation, involves events and cases that can take years from start to finish."

A lawyer with Howard & Howard Attorneys in Royal Oak, Fawaz specializes in general commercial litigation, products liability litigation, and appeals in state and federal courts, and he has successfully represented automotive suppliers, real estate firms, construction companies, and businesses in trial and appellate courts.

Commercial litigation provides opportunities for him to tackle complex legal issues on behalf of sophisticated business clients.

"Writing is a passion of mine, and commercial litigation allows me to author briefs covering unique subject matters," he says.

For the past five years, a great deal of his work has focused in the area of products liability law, and his work for a manufacturer of orthopedic implants a company with an international presence has taken him to over 25 U.S. states.

"The significant travel has been exciting, and it's amazing to see what a difference four hours can make," he says. "Back in January, I had a hearing in San Francisco. When I left for Detroit Metro Airport, it was 25 degrees, snowing, and my flight was delayed so the plane could stand in line and be de-iced. Four hours later, we landed in San Francisco. I looked outside and it was pure blue skies, 70 degrees, and simply beautiful. When I showed some of my colleagues in California the photos from Detroit, the reaction was hysterical: 'Oh, my gosh, how did you take off? Is that even safe?' It was funny for me because it really was only about an inch or two of snow, and for us Michiganders, that's laughable."

Fawaz has been intrigued by the variance in the law from state-to-state, which routinely presents interesting legal issues.

"In several states, our work has allowed us to make some great law for our client and other similarly situated companies," he says.

Often through its highest court, each state establishes unique perimeters for its products liability law, he notes. For example, in Pennsylvania, virtually all strict liability and most other non-negligence claims are barred against prescription drug and medical device manufacturers. In other states such as Wisconsin and Tennessee, legislatures recently passed significant changes to products liability law.

"Practicing in those states is unique, particularly in places where laws have been recently enacted and there is a dearth of case law explaining the new laws," he says.

In addition to learning new law, handling cases involving sophisticated and complicated medical devices has given Fawaz significant new knowledge into medical terminology, although there is a downside, he says with a smile.

"While that has been useful in the practice of law, it has also turned me into one of those people who Google medical terms and then believes they know everything. This was particularly on display when my father had to undergo back surgery and I met his surgeon with him. I'm fairly sure the surgeon was less impressed and more annoyed by my questions.

"Handling this products liability work in connection with a terrific team of lawyers and support staff, I've also maintained a consistent appellate practice."

Named among Michigan Rising Stars and dbusiness Top Lawyers, Fawaz has had the opportunity to work on matters in the Sixth, Seventh, and other federal circuits and is currently involved in appeals in Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. The legal issues vary significantly, with one case dealing with tax law, another dealing with jurisdiction and preemption issues, and another dealing with venue challenges and forum shopping, he explains.

"I find the variety keeps the practice of law fresh, and permits me to develop skills that are of significant benefit to our clients."

Fawaz, who is fluent in Arabic and Spanish, earned his undergrad degree in English from the University of Michigan and his J.D., magna cum laude, from Michigan State University College of Law, where he was a member of the Moot Court and Advocacy Board, and in his final year, led his Moot Court team to a national victory at the Fordham Kaufman Securities Law Competition.

"MSU has a beautiful campus and offered a terrific legal program," he says. "It had a Moot Court that had won national championships, and given my interest in litigation, it seemed like a great fit."

Prior to joining Howard & Howard, Fawaz gained experience as an appellate and litigation attorney with a mid-sized firm in Oakland County.

The Dearborn native and oldest of five siblings now makes his home in Royal Oak, where he enjoys spending time with his niece and nephews, traveling, and playing soccer.

"I grew up playing soccer and still occasionally get together with friends and do that when Michigan weather allows it," he says.

Golf has also become a new hobby, a sport he was introduced to at a firm event two years ago.

"Admittedly, I was not very good, but I've been practicing and find the sport fun and relaxing."

Published: Wed, May 13, 2015

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