by Tom Kirvan
There is no fire and brimstone to the way attorney Stuart Sklar approaches his role representing clients who have suffered sometimes catastrophic losses – in fires and explosions.
Sklar, at an imposing 6-feet, 4 inches tall, could easily resort to such oratorical tactics when pursuing claims for the Farmington Hills firm of Fabian Sklar & King, which in 2011 marked its 25th year as the “fire injury, explosion and property damage” specialists in the Midwest. But Sklar, who has gained a national reputation as an authority on fire and explosion litigation issues, prefers a far different approach to such matters.
“We, as a law firm, have staked our reputation on honesty and integrity in all our dealings,” Sklar said. “We are fierce advocates for our clients, but we only get involved in cases that we believe in, where we can help right a wrong for someone who has been unduly harmed. We don’t accomplish that by bullying. We do it by thoroughly investigating all the facts surrounding the case and then letting the facts speak for themselves in court or out of court.”
The circumstances of a July 2006 case certainly spoke loudly for Sklar and his legal partners, Michael Fabian and Patrick King. A massive explosion at a resort in Door County, Wis. killed a Bloomfield Hills couple and injured a dozen others, turning an idyllic vacation setting into an unspeakable nightmare for those left in the wake of the tragedy. Nearly two years after the explosion, and following months of intensive investigation and analysis, Sklar helped reach a $21 million settlement for the three children of the couple who died in the incident while vacationing at a resort in Ellison Bay.
In many respects, it was a signature case for the Farmington Hills firm and Sklar in particular, signifying once again that they could go “toe-to-legal-toe” with well-heeled insurance companies and giant corporations. It helped solidify their standing, on a regional and national level, as a “go-to” firm in cases of that magnitude.
There are countless other cases as well where the firm – and Sklar – have made their mark, serving as a legal voice for the “underdog” in matters that looked grim at first legal brush.
“The idea of helping people who aren’t in a position to help themselves is something that has always appealed to me,” said Sklar, a Farmington Hills Harrison grad who earned his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University. “It was something that was instilled in me at an early age by my mother, who always has been involved in a number of charitable endeavors,” he added, rattling off such causes as the March of Dimes, Children’s Hospital of Michigan, and various political and humanitarian campaigns. “She was always a whirlwind of activity.”
Sklar’s mother, Donna, a former school teacher who still lives in the same house in which her family was raised, was part of a parenting team that helped mold their son.
“My dad (Lawrence) was a CPA who had an incredible work ethic,” said Sklar of his mentor, who died in 1996 at age 60. “His clients loved him and respected him because he was always a straight-shooter, someone whose opinion you could trust. It was a quality I always admired.”
As a student at MSU, Sklar seemingly eschewed any thoughts of a career in the law, opting instead to major in advertising.
“I was in the ‘persuasion’ business,” Sklar said of his early career path, which included spending a pair of summers working for a local ad agency. “But then my direction changed and I decided to go to law school, hoping that I could use my communication skills to full advantage.”
Three years after graduating from Michigan State in 1982, Sklar obtained his juris doctor degree from the former Detroit College of Law, now known as the MSU College of Law. Within two years of graduating from law school, Sklar joined forces with Michael Fabian, eventually forming a firm that was determined to carve out its niche in representing plaintiffs in fire and explosion cases.
“We wanted to do something that not everyone else was doing,” said Sklar of the firm’s focus. “Michael and I hit it off right away. He reins me in and I push him out of his comfort zone. We complement each other. We’ve never had an argument in our 25 years about the operation or direction of the firm.”
Sklar, who hit for power as a catcher during high school, batted a thousand in his first two cases out of law school, winning a pair of federal court trials.
“Those cases gave me a great deal of confidence and a sense that I had what it takes to make it in the law,” Sklar said.
Sklar, who celebrated his silver wedding anniversary last fall, is a Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI) through the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI). He serves on the Technical Committee on Fire Investigations, literally helping write the 2011 “Guide for Fire & Explosion Investigations” for the National Fire Protection Association. According to his law partner Fabian, Sklar is held in such high regard for his expertise that fire investigators across the state “look to Stuart for guidance and insight” when faced with particularly nettlesome cases.
Perhaps someday there will be another Sklar on the firm’s letterhead. His daughter, Emily, a senior broadcast journalism student at Michigan State University, is “considering the possibility” of attending law school, according to Sklar, whose wife Donna is a graduate of the University of Michigan with a master’s degree in education from Wayne State.
The couple’s son, Alex, also a graduate of Walled Lake Western High School, is following a different academic path, studying engineering at MSU. He is a third generation member of Alpha Epsilon Pi, following in the fraternity footsteps of his father and grandfather.
Sklar, whose father was a member of the fraternity at Wayne State, helped breathe new life into the chapter at MSU, displaying his tenacity by “cutting through some of the university red tape” to get Alphi Epsilon Pi “re-started on the Michigan State campus.” He had a fatherly helping hand, however.
“My dad gave us the incentive by promising pizza and beer,” Sklar said with a grin.t