Note: The following article was originally published in Sidebar, a newsletter published by the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association. Download the full article here.
OTLA Features Fred Millard a Portland, Oregon Fire Claims Attorney in: Sheltering Victims in Insurance Claims
He’s been a member of OTLA for over 10 years but most of you probably don’t know affable and unassuming Fred Millard. He stays under the radar, but is certainly no stranger to the countless victims of devastating property damage cases. A stalwart of the Guardians of Civil Justice program – Millard’s commitment to shepherding his clients in time of great loss and holding insurance companies accountable makes him our spotlight of the month.
Millard was a building contractor for 18 years and an insurance adjuster in Florida with his wife Heidi Gross. He is a partner at Millard & Bragg Attorneys at Law PC. Still very much a team, Gross runs the practice while Millard works the cases. Their journey to Orgeon and Millard’s path to becoming an expert construction lawyer is marked not only by changes of heart, but by major weather events.
In August 1992, Hurricane Andrew hit Florida with massive force. Successful contracting business owner Millard found himself at the epicenter of devastated south Florida. He set up a satellite office to help shell-shocked homeowners. With the damages affecting more than 600,000 homes, Millard was quickly bombarded with displaced residents asking him for insurance estimates. He quickly discovered that he was a natural at negotiating insurance claims to get help for his clients. Devastated homeowners were literally lined up outside his office seeking his guidance and assistance in sorting out the value of their claims and making sense of a complicated claims process. Right then and there Millard decided to give up the construction side of his business, get his insurance license and he went to work trying to maximize supplemental recovery for the desperate residents of South Florida.
In 1996, exhausted and looking for their own renewal, Millard and Gross let the winds of change blow them across the country to California. They landed in Santa Clara where Millard, then 44-years-old, pursued his JD, on scholarship, from Santa Clara Law School. After his experience in Florida, he knew he wanted to do more to help every day citizens get what they paid for from their insurance carriers. He just wasn’t sure how or where. After graduating the couple decided California was simply too crowded. They rented an RV and drove around the Pacific Northwest looking for their new home. The only criteria – nothing too hot, nothing too cold. They found Oregon – just right.
In 1998, after taking a prep-course at Lewis & Clark, Millard passed the Oregon Bar exam. He accepted his first, albeit brief, job with Tarlow Jordan & Shrader. Millard then moved to the Metro Public Defenders office for 1½ years. Being the consummate business man, he knew he had to go for broke and hang up his own shingle.
Millard’s extensive hands on knowledge of the insurance culture and construction industry have been critical in the development of his construction and insurance related practice. His firm specializes in first-party insurance claims and most facets of construction litigation. “You have to be aggressive in handling these types of claims,” Millard warns his fellow practitioners. “From the very beginning, I always prepare my cases as though they are going to trial. Assumption and pre-conceived notions are common threads in the insurance culture. Adjusters are taught that many insured are trying to defraud the company and work from that assumption in most claims.”
A case near and dear to his heart involved a third generation family owned and operated potato packing factory in Merrill, Oregon. The business started in 1940 and according to Millard, “the family was true salt of the earth, honest and ethical people.” The factory suffered massive property damage from a fire and the insurance company immediately cried “arson”. Millard took the case on less than 1 month before the statute of limitations expired. The case was riddled with problems including a criminal indictment of his client, masterminded by the insurance company attorneys. Still, Millard’s gut told him to believe in his client’s innocence. “Ask yourself the two most critical questions in these types of cases: Did the plaintiff set the fire? Did the plaintiff conceal or misrepresent the facts of the case?” advises Millard. Millard answered no to both questions after talking with his client. “Assist in the investigation phase of every case, if possible. Don’t ever let your client submit to an exam under oath without representation.”
After 300 different filings and tremendous resources battling Country Insurance, the case finally settled with an excellent result for his client. All criminal charges were dismissed. In a town of 800, the stigma of committing arson and fraud took a hefty toll on his client. Beyond the recovery, Millard was most thankful for finally vindicating the family of any wrongdoing. “It takes a lot of time, money and most importantly caring to try these cases,” says Millard. “People literally fall apart after such devastation. Money can never replace what is lost and clients are never completely made whole again.” He also admits that there’s nothing more rewarding than doing exactly what he’s doing to help people in their time of crisis. His greatest asset – “really great clients”.
Millard offers some helpful hints for any property owner. His number one piece of advice is to do a narrated, videotaped tour of your house or office shooting all of the contents. Keep a copy of that tape offsite. Insurance companies bank on consumers being so overwhelmed with their loss that they forget items to claim. As for attorneys looking to do similar work, Millard urges OTLA members to stay connected. “Ask lots of questions and always seek out a few key colleagues to bounce ideas and information off of,” he advises. “New lawyers should always associate themselves with someone who is experienced.” Clearly, Millard has the experience and passion to help countless more Oregonians in their time of need.