'Car guy'-Attorney spearheads Product Safety Group


 By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News
Born and raised in the shadow of the old Chrysler World Headquarters and Ford Model T plant in Highland Park, and with a father who spent 35 years at Ford Motor Co., attorney Robert Haddad has the auto industry in his blood. So it’s no surprise that Haddad, a principal and managing director at Miller Canfield in Troy, is a member of Automotive Industry Team and leader of the Product Safety Group. 
“I feel I learn something new with every case and issue I handle for automotive clients,” he says. “Although I’m not an engineer, I feel that after 20-plus years in the industry, I definitely can relate to issues they deal with on a daily basis.”
Haddad represents OEMs and suppliers in regulatory matters before the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and other regulatory bodies; and specializes in coordinating national discovery systems for manufacturers and litigation of contract, warranty, UCC, product liability, and premise liability cases.
As leader of the Product Safety Group, he coordinates efforts to represent clients in all aspects of product safety including litigation, product liability counseling, discovery strategies, consultation regarding warnings and labeling, regulatory compliance, and product recalls.  
“While our primary focus is on automotive products, we’re experienced in handling product safety issues for a wide spectrum of products including industrial, watercraft, appliances, asbestos and chemical products,” he says.  
One challenging case involved a claim that certain body armor was not effective in stopping bullets. 
“The case was very complex in that it involved claims by police officers and others body armor users against the manufacturer on the one side and claims by the manufacturer against the supplier of the chemical fiber on the other,” Haddad says. “And early in my career, I had the good fortune to be involved in a substantial automotive supply chain case in which we successfully defended an engine manufacturer in a $40 million plus claim for warranty reimbursement.”
New government regulations are being implemented at an alarming rate, he notes—and manufacturers must know how to comply, and how to handle the situation when not in compliance. 
“We help clients on both ends—and they often express a sense of relief when we can get the situation under control and implement a plan that addresses the issue.”
In choosing law as a career, Haddad was inspired by his uncle, Sam Haddad, a solo law practitioner with a small office above a street corner storefront in Highland Park. 
“My father and I would often walk to the corner and visit or conduct business with him,” Haddad recalls. “Based on those very early experiences, I knew I wanted to become a lawyer.”  
A graduate of University of Detroit Jesuit High School, Haddad was very fond of Jesuit education and the ethics and values emphasized. His experience at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law—where he received his J.D. in 1988—did not disappoint. 
“Not only did they teach the law, they explored the issues of ‘right and wrong’ as well as social justice and service to the community,” he says.  
The downtown location allowed him to take law clerking jobs at the National Bank of Detroit, Detroit Edison, and a smaller law firm, while attending classes.
With popular TV shows like “L.A. Law” inspiring a lot of students to head to law school in the 1980s, Haddad wanted to distinguish himself from the pack—and simultaneously earned his MBA from UDM. With a degree in economics from the University of Michigan, and many of the business pre-requisites completed, he was able to complete his MBA and law degree with only one additional semester. The program was challenging, but had its benefit. 
“It was refreshing to take a semester or two off of law classes and mix it up with business classes,” he says. “I also gained valuable exposure to many auto engineers and business executives while taking the MBA courses at night.”   
Haddad would encourage younger lawyers to take a leaf from his playbook and bring to the table education and/or work experiences distinguishing themselves from other candidates and related in a significant way to their chosen niche. 
“Having an MBA has allowed me to effectively relate to business and automotive clients,” he says. “It also has allowed me to more effectively manage my practice and to get involved with the management of my practice group and law firm.”
Founded in Detroit over 150 years ago, Miller Canfield has played a unique and integral role in the auto industry for many years, he notes.  
“It’s only natural that we be at the forefront of the legal issues in the automotive industry,” he says. “We have a top-notch team of lawyers that can cover all aspects of the issues that affect the industry.”
Haddad, who also serves as legal counsel for his church, Our Lady of Redemption Melkite Catholic Church in Warren, is a relatively rare bird in spending almost a quarter century with one law firm. 
“In the current legal environment, it’s becoming increasingly unusual for a lawyer to begin and end his career with the same firm,” he notes. “I feel fortunate to be a principal in a firm of the caliber of Miller Canfield—and equally fortunate that I’ve been able to be at that the same firm for 24 years. Our lawyers are all top-notch and hard working and it’s my intention is to stay here for as long as the firm will have me. The firm has always been supportive of me and my group and it certainly helps to have loyal and supportive clients.”
Haddad and his wife Christine have made their home in Grosse Pointe Park since 1998, where they have raised three children:  Michael, 19, is studying pre-med/dental at Wayne State; Joseph, 17, is a junior at U of D Jesuit High School; and 11-year-old Maria is in sixth grade at St Paul on the Lake in Grosse Pointe Farms. Haddad enjoys cheering his children’s sports activities; basketball; DIY handyman work; boating on Lake St. Clair; and muscle cars. 
“I’m a ‘car guy,’” he says. “I’ve always enjoyed working on cars and recently restored a ‘66 Ford Mustang.”