Flip side: Change of course meets desire of attorney

By Tom Kirvan

Legal News

It could be classified as an occupational hazard for attorney Patrick King, who admits to a somewhat "perverse sort of pride" in enjoying one aspect of his job in particular.

"I like to read insurance policies," King said with a straight face. "I especially like to see how they have evolved over time, to see what's covered and what is not. They may not rank high on most people's reading lists, but I've found that they are a far better way to spend time than answering interrogatories."

King, as could be surmised, sports a disarming sense of humor, which is a good thing considering the sometimes grim nature of his role investigating and analyzing the causes behind fire and explosion cases for the Farmington Hills firm of Fabian, Sklar & King.

He assumed the role in 2001, shortly after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, shifting from the defense side of insurance litigation work. His decision to join the firm, which marked its 25th anniversary last year, stemmed from a change in his legal outlook on life.

"When the planes hit the towers, the climate in this country changed, and I wanted to be a part of a firm that helped those who have suffered injuries or losses from unexpected events," King said. "I had known Michael and Stuart for years, and always admired and respected their work. They were more pragmatic than dogmatic, and that appealed to me."

A product of University of Detroit High School, King earned his bachelor of arts degree from the University of Michigan in 1974. Three years later, he was awarded his juris doctorate from Wayne State University Law School, landing a job with a firm specializing in defending property insurance claims.

"I spent the bulk of my career on the flip side of things, working hard to defend insurance cases," King said. "I much prefer being on the plaintiff's side, attempting to right a wrong that has happened to them."

Now in his 35th year as an attorney, King has "litigated hundreds of cases involving insurance matters, including cases involving the investigation of potential arson and fraud defenses." He has defended and prosecuted "errors and omission cases against insurance agents and other insurance professionals, and obtained one of the largest multi-million dollar judgments against an insurance agent in Michigan history."

King, like his law partner Stuart Sklar, is a Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator through the National Association of Fire Investigators, and has lectured extensively on a variety of topics related to the origin and cause of fires and explosions. His investigative expertise has helped the Farmington Hills firm gain a national reputation as "fire injury, explosion, and property damage" specialists.

In 2008, the firm experienced one of its signature legal moments when it reached a $21 million settlement over the deaths of a Detroit area couple killed in a propane gas explosion that tore through a summer resort in Wisconsin. The blast occurred in the early morning hours of July 10, 2006, destroying three buildings and heavily damaging nine others in the Door County town of Ellison Bay. Two people were killed, seven were injured, and three young children were suddenly orphaned, according to King, who along with Sklar was among the first investigators summoned to the scene.

Their investigation entangled a number of defendants, produced 99 depositions, tens of thousands of pages of court documents, the eight-figure settlement, and passage of state legislation that requires the pinpointing of underground propane lines on all regulatory maps.

Likewise, the firm has been heavily involved in sifting through clues as to the cause of a December 2010 gas explosion that leveled a furniture store in Wayne, killing two people and seriously injuring another. Consumers Energy reportedly faced 10 lawsuits over the explosion, settling most of them, according to King.

"Cases such as those have tragedy written all over them," King said of the Ellison Bay and Wayne explosions. "Trying to determine the cause of the explosions and how to assign responsibility are just part of the job that we undertake each time we go into situations like that.

"Of course, that's just the beginning, because we know that the insurance companies are going to have their own set of investigators, who will be determined to examine the case in an altogether different light," King explained. "We know that we will face an uphill battle, and will have to match them dollar for dollar, witness for witness throughout the entire case. We know that there will be a heavy investment of time and money in every case we take, but that is a role we embrace."

King grew up in Redford Township, the son of a tool and die maker who was a Marine veteran of World War II. His father, Lester, died in 2006 at age 87, while his mother, Geraldine, was a homemaker, principally raising King and his younger sister, Cathy.

"My sister and I were both adopted," said King. "I was first adopted at birth and then again went through the adoption process at eight months through Catholic Social Services."

He and his wife, Cathy, have a blended family of four daughters and a son: Elizabeth, Katie, Mary, Kevin, and Sarah. Elizabeth is a litigation attorney with a firm in Detroit, and formerly was an extern with the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office. Katie is pursuing a career as a veterinarian, while Mary is studying to become a nurse. The couple's younger children, 10-year-old Kevin and 8-year-old Sarah, continue to keep them busy with their interests and activities.

"They are our pride and joy," said King, who enjoys reading, kayaking, and watching football in his spare time.

His love for U-M football, however, does not generally sit well with his two law partners, a pair of Michigan State grads.

"Even though they enjoy ganging up on me whenever the talk turns to Michigan-Michigan State, I hold my own against two Spartans," King said with a wink.

Published: Thu, May 24, 2012

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