Explosive career: Local attorney specializes in catastrophic claims

April 6, 2016


In a case involving a fatal house explosion, attorney Jason Liss, together with partner Stuart Sklar at Fabian, Sklar, & King PC, hired an expert to build a mock-up of a portion of the house and then blow it up in order to disprove the gas company’s gas migration theory.

It was just one memorable case among many for Liss, a trial attorney with the Farmington Hills based firm. With more than 20 years of experience litigating personal injury, property damage and insurance coverage disputes, Liss routinely represents individuals who have suffered catastrophic injuries and estates that have suffered wrongful deaths resulting from fires and explosions.

“In another explosion case involving some particularly egregious facts, we agreed to a pre-litigation facilitation with the gas company. Because there were no economic damages, it was a difficult case to value—especially since we could find no comparable reported verdicts or settlements,” Liss says. “Rather than demanding some astronomical and unrealistic number with the hopes of being negotiated down to an acceptable settlement, we spent two days and a considerable amount of money trying the case to four mock jury panels in order to develop data that we could use to back up our demands at the facilitation.”

One particularly challenging, but satisfying, part of Liss’s job is the cross-examination of an insurance company’s fire investigator or SIU adjuster.

With the mentoring he received at the firm, Liss became a Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI) certified by the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI).

“Using the knowledge I acquired to become certified, together with my experience in this area of the law, makes cross-examining fire investigators and SIU adjusters who have wrongfully accused my clients of arson or fraud to be just good clean fun,” he says.

Liss’s path to this unusual niche began with an undergrad degree in political science at the University of Michigan.

“Ann Arbor is a great college town with a diverse and cosmopolitan student body – it opened the door to meeting people from across the country,” he says.

During undergrad, and after graduation, he traveled, studied and lived abroad, before returning to the Great Lakes State to live in Royal Oak and attend Wayne State University Law School.

“The 696 east-west corridor had just opened up, Royal Oak was coming alive and Detroit’s raw energy and grittiness drew me in,” he says. “I’ve been a huge fan ever since and wherever my travels take me, I’m proud to tell all who ask that I’m a Detroiter.”

Hailing from a family of lawyers, Liss had a natural path to the law.

“Having come from a family of plaintiffs’ lawyers, I was naturally drawn to that side of the aisle,” he says. “After overcoming the uncertainty and insecurity of being a young lawyer, I realized how truly fortunate I was to find myself in an occupation that was so challenging, rewarding and well-suited to my argumentative personality.”

Liss’s father and uncle are well-known personal injury lawyers, primarily handling auto no-fault and negligence claims.

“At that time, the community of lawyers practicing in that area of the law were very collegial and it was a great place for me to learn and grow as an attorney,” he says.

A few years later Liss went solo–and a few months after hanging his shingle, took over another attorney’s practice and met the attorneys at Fabian, Sklar & King, who started sending referrals.

“That was my introduction to property insurance claims, including fire loss cases,” he says.

Over the next decade, Liss maintained a close relationship with the firm and, while he continued to handle personal injury cases, found he really enjoyed the property cases—particularly the fire losses.

“As I became more drawn to that area of the law, I wanted to work with the attorneys who I believed had the best cases and were the best at what they did,” he says. “I joined Fabian, Sklar & King in 2008 and I’ve since had the privilege of working on some high value, high profile cases with some very fine attorneys, including the Royal Oak and Wayne Furniture store explosions.”

Liss has achieved numerous multi-million-dollar settlements, aggressively litigated hundreds of cases, and conducted dozens of jury trials—including successfully arguing before the Michigan Court of Appeals, the Sixth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, and the Michigan Supreme Court.

In many cases, he represents clients whose homeowner’s or commercial property insurance claims have been denied by an insurance company accusing them of arson or fraud.

“Litigating these cases is unique because even though I represent the plaintiff, the insurance company has the burden of proof,” he explains.

“I get to put my case in first, and my job is to take apart the insurance company’s case. Ironically, in some respects, I am really more of a defense attorney than a plaintiff’s attorney.”

Named among “Super Lawyers,” “Best Lawyers” and DBusiness “Top Lawyers” and achieving an AV Preeminent Martindale-Hubbell Overall Peer Rating of 5.0 out of 5.0, Liss is an active member of the Michigan Association for Justice where he sits on the executive board.

“MAJ levels the playing field by advocating for those who don’t have the resources or ability to protect their rights against the interests of the insurance companies and other big corporations which have a seemingly limitless supply of money to lobby legislators and fund the campaigns of judges who they see as favorable to their interests,” he notes. “In short, MAJ protects the rights of individuals against corporations.”

Liss currently serves as a council member for the Insurance & Indemnity Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan.

“What I like about being involved with the State Bar is that it gives me an opportunity to interact with colleagues who are usually on the other side of the aisle from me,” he says. “With MAJ, I’m interacting with plaintiff attorneys. With the Insurance & Indemnity council, I get the opportunity to interact with defense attorneys in a non-adversarial endeavor. It’s a good perspective that I don’t gain from my other activities.”

The Farmington Hills native makes his home in Bloomfield Hills with Jennifer, his wife of 18 years. The couple’s three sons all play competitive tennis and are ranked players, and a significant part of family life and resources has been devoted to the sport.

“It’s been incredibly satisfying to watch our kids grow and mature in their chosen sport,” Liss says. “Probably the biggest reward tennis has given us, as parents, are all the teachable moments and life lessons that are inherently a part of competitive sports. When things don’t go their way, I always remind my kids that even though it doesn’t feel good, they will learn more from their losses than their wins.”

A do-it-yourselfer via YouTube videos, Liss learned to string his children’s tennis racquets and, more recently, taught himself to weld.

“I probably spend far too much time in Home Depot and Lowe’s, and one day I just got it in my mind that I wanted to try my hand at welding,” he explains. “After getting myself equipped, and after much trial and error, I’ve managed to make a few metal sculptures that are passable enough to display in our home. Come spring, I’m hoping to work my way up to lawn art!”

Read the article on Oakland County Legal News here.