Legal Strategist: Attorney enjoys the challenges of commercial litigation

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

When a 75-year-old business burned to the ground in an explosion, everyone was lucky to escape alive. The next battle the owners faced was insurance. “Regrettably, their insurance company tried to starve them into an unfair settlement by continuously delaying payments or simply refusing to pay on available coverages,” explains Michael Wais, an attorney with Howard & Howard Attorneys in Royal Oak.

“After obtaining as much as possible by ‘voluntary’ payments, we won two separate trials which not only allowed our client to recover every penny they were entitled to under the policies, but also almost $2 million over and above the policy limits for failing to provide the requested insurance coverage, penalty interest, and case evaluation sanctions.”    

While the entire matter, including two Michigan Court of Appeals arguments, took almost nine years from the date of the fire until the date of the last check from the insurance company, Wais’ client was able to save and rebuild the business and is now thriving in a new location.

It was just one of many challenging cases for Wais, an alum of the University of Michigan and Wayne Law, who concentrates his practice in commercial litigation, business & corporate law, and employment law.

In another insurance case, he represented the beneficiary of a $7.2 million dollar life insurance policy, and obtained summary judgment in his client’s favor in excess of $9 million (including penalty interest). In obtaining the award, Wais successfully defeated each attempt by the insurance company to void the insurance policy for inter alia, alleged fraud, misrepresentation, and lack of an insurable interest. The case settled for the vast majority of the summary judgment award shortly after the oral argument before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In another matter, Wais was involved in a 12 day American Arbitration Association trial against a large publicly traded company that improperly pulled business away from Wais’ client and brought it in-house. “It was represented by excellent counsel at a large Michigan law firm and the arbitration panel was comprised of three highly acclaimed attorneys – so the work on all sides was top notch,” Wais says.

“Our client was owned, in part, by two of my law partners, and our firm agreed to accept the case on a reduced hourly rate and partial contingency fee basis — so, in short, losing was not an option. After the pressure-packed trial, our client received $3.8 million, even though the arbitrators knew we would have accepted a settlement of $2.9 million on the day the trial began.”

Each commercial litigation case is an exciting new challenge, Wais notes.

“It never gets boring as every case has different facts, parties, opposing counsel, and judges – each a different puzzle that you have to help the client solve by applying the facts to the law and using what you have to obtain the best possible outcome. You’re always planning ahead, strategizing, and trying to determine the best and most cost efficient method to get the matter resolved.

“Sometimes that’s a trial – the most exciting thing you can do as a litigator – but usually it’s finding a negotiated resolution between fighting parties – but the worst settlement usually beats a trial as our client now has certainty through a business decision, instead of gambling on a judge or jury to rule in his or her favor.”

As most clients have made money by making prudent business decisions, as long as both sides are ‘reasonable,’ settlements are the most likely end result in litigation, he adds.

Corporate transactions are, in some respects, the exact opposite of litigation, he explains.

 “Instead of having parties who are already in a fight, you have parties who choose to complete the transaction, but they’re still fighting to settle on the best terms possible. However, unlike litigation where a failed settlement typically leads to a trial, a failed corporate transaction usually means the parties simply go their separate ways.”

Wais has litigated with respect to so many corporate transactions that he is able to provide clients with first-hand insight into how a judge or jury would interpret a specific term of the agreement or what would likely happen in court if the deal fails. “I also use the negotiating and persuading skills in litigation to help the client complete the transaction as favorably as possible – or to help the client see that walking away from the potential deal may be the best decision to make,” he says.

His corporate law cases involve helping businesses solve problems. “All of the litigation and transaction skills combine to try to help the client achieve their goal, whether that’s through a contractual relationship, business planning or other corporate matter,” he says.

Named to Michigan Super Lawyers and Michigan Leading Lawyers, Wais finds employment law, at times, the most challenging of all.

 “Most of the time there is a person’s financial life at issue,” he explains. “While corporations are made up of individuals, or may be owned by one person, it’s still different than a situation where an employee may, or has, lost his or her job. Solving an employment law situation typically provides the greatest sense of service in my practice.”

Last year, Wais and one of his litigation partners were asked by a federal court judge to help, on a pro bono basis, a severely handicapped person in a lawsuit he filed seeking long term disability benefits. “Despite the significant defenses, we were able to negotiate a fair settlement which helped our client obtain money he could use to both put food on the table and to also obtain safer housing for himself and his family,” Wais says.

“While it was a lot more work than we expected, it was also far more rewarding than any other matter I’ve worked on in a long time.”

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