If South Florida lawyer Michael Haggard retired tomorrow, his legacy would be one marked by great courtroom and legislative accomplishments.
For more than 20 years, the Coral Gables native has worked to make the world safer through his family law practice, The Haggard Law Firm, and several organizations interested in fostering positive change.
Recently, the Florida Justice Association (FJA) — a statewide group of trial lawyers advocating public service and protecting citizens’ rights to access the courts — presented him with their prestigious EAGLE Centurion Award for his contributions to the organization, which include donating more than $250,000 to the group and serving as its 50th president between 2009 and 2010.
“Without the FJA, consumers and families would have no one to fight for them,” Haggard said. “When big insurance companies and corporations want to change laws and take rights away from individuals, we don’t all get a notice on our doorstep saying, ‘Hey, the legislature is meeting today and they’re about to vote away your rights.’
“The FJA is the one group that watches this and really stands up and fights the most powerful interests in our society,” he said. “To be a member and leader there and be recognized for all the hard work and resources myself and my firm have put into it is a tremendous honor.”
The son of Andy Haggard, a trial lawyer, Michael Haggard grew up hearing stories about his father’s clients and the adversity and tragedy he went through with them. After graduating from the University of Miami School of Law in 1995 he served as an assistant public defender for two years. In 1997, he worked for Don Russo, a personal injury lawyer. A year later he joined his father’s firm where he became a partner and has since taken over as managing partner.
“We’re a small firm of eight lawyers with great partners and some superstar associates who are doing the same thing my dad did 40 years ago,” he said. “We’re a family representing other families who have a lot of resources — a small, elite fighting unit who can fight toe-to-toe with any insurance company, manufacturer or corporate defendant.”
That assertion is no exaggeration. Haggard obtained the first verdict in the nation dealing with cell phone distractions, winning a $21 million verdict. A crusader against wrongful death due to drowning, he and his firm won back-to-back $100 million verdicts in 2003 in pool accident cases involving children and another for the same value in 2007.
Two years ago he championed the Graeme Baker Pool Safety Act, a law which prevents suction entrapment from occurring in swimming pools by requiring pump manufacturers to have dual drains and automatic shut-off switches.
Last year, his legislative success and continued efforts to enact barrier laws earned him the Jon Krupnick Award for excellence in trial advocacy.
“Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children under 5 in Florida and the No. 2 cause in the nation,” he said. “What we’d love to have happen is to pass these drowning laws and then never have another drowning case. That’s the goal of the court system. We had those exploding Pintos back in the ‘70s. You don’t have those anymore. I’d love to legislate myself out of business by making the world safer.”
Haggard is a past president of the Miami-Dade Justice Association and currently serves on the advisory council for the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, sits on the board of directors for the National Crime Victim Bar Association, is a member of the MADD Barristers Council as its audit and finance committee chair and sits on the National Board of the Polycystic Kidney Foundation. He is a two-time Daily Business Review “Most Effective Lawyer” winner, was given the “Advocate for Justice Award” by the National Crime Victims Bar Association and is annually recognized as one of Florida Trend Magazine’s “Best Lawyers in the Country.”