Burning desire-- Firm trains its focus on fire, explosion cases

By Debra Talcott

Legal News

The Farmington Hills firm of Fabian, Sklar, & King PC earned national recognition for obtaining a $21 million settlement on behalf of three Michigan children whose parents were killed in a propane gas explosion during the summer of 2006. The family had been vacationing at the Cedar Grove Resort in Ellison Bay, Wis. when a propane leak caused by nearby construction work resulted in the explosion that destroyed the family's rental cottage while they slept.

"As a result of that case, regulations over the registration of private propane gas lines were changed in the state of Wisconsin," explains Stuart Sklar, the lead attorney in that case and a shareholder at the firm.

Fabian, Sklar, & King was founded in 1986 by Michael Fabian, a nationally-recognized expert in insurance law. He was joined by Sklar and Patrick King after the three became friends through their professional relationships.

"We knew we would work well together because we share the same passion for helping and representing those who have faced fires, explosions, or property insurance issues," says Fabian.

Their firm is the only one in Michigan that devotes its practice entirely to handling such cases. With a combined 90 years in the practice of the law, the partners have spent their careers litigating property insurance matters. Fabian and Sklar have always represented the policyholders. King, who represented insurance companies for the first 25 years of his career, brings that perspective from "across the aisle" to the practice.

Now a five-attorney boutique law firm, with the addition of Jason Liss and Douglas McCray, Fabian, Sklar & King offers clients special insight into fire and explosion investigations.

Fabian serves as an editor of Michigan Insurance Law and Practice, which is published by the Institute for Continuing Legal Education (ICLE). As a frequent lecturer nationally, he advises legal and other professional groups and has presented to the Michigan Accountants Guild, a professional organization of CPAs, and the Michigan Association of Public Insurance Adjusters.

Sklar is co-founder of the International Symposium on Fire and Investigation Science and Technology (ISF). The Symposium is a biennial event that brings together fire investigation professionals to share the latest information in fire investigation science, research, technology, and methodology.

King brings his special insight to this area of legal practice. From his years representing the insurance companies, King has witnessed the power these companies wield, which can change people's lives.

"They are not the 'caring neighbor' they promote themselves to be on television," says Sklar. "They absolutely don't care. It is in the companies' best interest to delay payment as much and as long as possible."

Fabian is quick to explain the devastating impact insurance companies can have when they delay acting on behalf of the policyholder and, instead, hold the money themselves.

"Atrocities can occur, including people not having a place to live or losing their place of business," he says. "There is an extreme emotional impact of the uncertainty of the future. These situations can be incredibly devastating."

Fabian goes on to explain that policies are not written so that business owners and homeowners can readily understand them.

"There is a long list of phrases to be wary of, including 'actual cash value,' 'coinsurance,' and what constitutes proper 'proof of loss.'"

While some attorneys represent clients in fire and explosion cases from time to time, Fabian, Sklar, & King takes pride in a practice that is dedicated to this niche. The firm's well-earned reputation has garnered the respect of their peers, and the firm's attorneys are often invited to serve as a resource for fellow attorneys.

Both Sklar and King have earned the Certified Fire and Explosion Investigators (CFEI) designation from the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI).

"When we are retained to investigate a fire, the question always asked, for obvious concerns, is 'What caused the fire?'" says King. "We have the knowledge to not only determine what caused the fire, but we, more importantly, take an active role in the investigation to understand how the fire spread."

It is this same knowledge that allows the firm to represent clients and their loved ones who have been injured or killed as a result of such traumatic events. The attorneys share their expertise and best practices with others, and they have lectured extensively on the origins and causes of fires and explosions. They have made presentations to fire investigation organizations, fire science classes, and insurance professionals.

"This provides the firm with a way to develop relationships with top industry experts that are advantageous to our clients during the investigation process," says King. "When we are at the scene of the fire or explosion, we keenly understand the investigation from start to finish."

With clients ranging from individual homeowners to Fortune 500 companies, the attorneys at Fabian, Sklar, & King make a profound contribution by dealing with serious issues on a daily basis. However, the founders also recognize the importance of doing pro-bono work and community service.

"We will be executing a charity campaign in the fall to generate awareness during Fire Prevention Week," says Fabian.

Published: Wed, Jun 23, 2010