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Richard D. Gerber

Emerging Practice Area: Fire & Explosion Subrogation

Richard D. Gerber knows about the toll accidental blazes can wreak on both persons and property, whether they’re caused by a negligent blowtorch operator in Ohio, a fertilizer plant explosion in Texas or wildfires raging through California.

Richard D. Gerber“The main reason I dove head first into this field was the satisfaction I could bring to the insurance clients and their insureds,” said Gerber, a member at Evans & Dixon and the chairman of its large loss subrogation practice group. “In my field, the insureds are absolutely thrilled to hear from me, to know that someone with experience is going to help them figure out what burnt their house to the ground or what put them out of business for years.”

Getting those answers not only has made Gerber popular with clients but has pushed his firm’s fire and explosion subrogation practice to prominence around the nation. As one of the few practices in this complex and daunting area of law, Evans & Dixon has 75 to 100 cases pending in the field — most from outside Missouri.

The firm works to represent insurers, and frequently the insured, as plaintiffs against third parties responsible for causing devastating blazes. It has become well-known in the industry for its immediate on-site investigations and deep knowledge in this complicated branch of forensic science. Gerber said he’s hired as many as 14 experts to make a case, which could involve anything from electron-microscopic analysis to the construction of mockups for testing.

Gerber initially found his calling thanks to former Brown & James colleague Russell F. Watters, who introduced him to subrogation cases. Today, that niche practice has involved Gerber in more than 1,000 cases nationwide, often with damage totals that might run to eight or even nine figures. From hotel blazes to chemical explosions to railcar disasters, Gerber has become a go-to expert on the issue of fire. He estimates that the practice built by himself and his associates, Matt Leffler and Matt McArthur, has grown tenfold since moving to Evans & Dixon.

Thanks to the methods he’s developed to handle complex site investigation and spoliation issues, Gerber frequently is named lead counsel in cases involving multiple subrogation claims that arise from a single disaster. He speaks nationally on the issue as chair of the Missouri-Kansas Chapter of the National Association of Subrogation Professionals.

Gerber said he regularly goes up against attorneys from big-name firms in larger cities, but he believes that ultimately expertise can make all of the difference in leveling the playing field.

“As the lead attorney, my job is to marry the legal issues and jury presentation with the scientific principles our experts bring to the case,” he said, noting that years of working with retained experts has helped to educate his team on the issues involved.

As for Gerber himself, he derives satisfaction from the safety innovations that cases such as his might have helped to bring about,  such as childproof cigarette lighters or tip-resistant space heaters.

“I take pride in the changes we bring to consumers and society overall,” he said. “By bringing manufacturers of defective products to justice, forcing them to be responsible for their defective product and the harm it causes not only benefits the insurance industry, it’s my part in making the world a safer place to live.”

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