This Women in Subro blog series highlights powerhouse women in the industry while discussing leadership, management, and success in subrogation. In our interview with Laura Cygan, Senior Fire Investigator with EFI Global, we recognized that her success has aligned with her interests in education, training, and technology.
In high school, Laura went out for the tackle football team, but the male Athletic Director fixed it to kick her off the team. She went to college for a degree in architecture on an athletic scholarship for track, then changed majors and became a firefighter.
Laura joined the department as a firefighter in 1981 and started her career as an arson investigator in 1982. She progressed quickly and kept taking classes and trainings. Now with 22 years with EFI Global, her career includes over 3,600 fire investigations. This is impressive on its own, but we fully recognize and appreciate Laura for succeeding in her career while also battling and surviving breast cancer (which included 8 surgeries), and raising two kids. Her daughter is now following the path blazed by Laura, having just graduated from the Fire Academy last year.
Q: Are you doing your childhood dream job?
A: I never thought about being a firefighter growing up. But after a ride-along with an EMT, I tested and fell in love with it.
Q: How do you describe “subrogation” to friends and family?
A: Very basic: the insurance company has a right to legally pursue a third party (Ex: manufacturer for product defect or contractor for construction issues) that caused the fire or loss. The insurance carrier will subrogate to recoup their loss, which has the benefits of keeping premiums low, producing product recalls, and creating code changes, etc.
Q: Do you have a fun subro story to share?
A: On a recent case that went to the federal court for a garage fire involving a lithium battery, the evidence proved a slam dunk case. We performed a CT scan, where we can see the failure of the battery inside without destroying the evidence. We also performed field testing, in which we bought various exemplars and tested them; we had batteries exploding! One battery flew 40 feet out and continued to burn. Learning was the exciting part of this case.
Q: What is the hardest part of your job?
A. The reports. Investigators are not English majors, but the reports must be thorough, well-articulated, well-written, and detailed.
Q: What is the most interesting part of your job?
A: I love doing the field work. I like large losses with multiple parties and different people coming together, collecting evidence and doing the engineering. It is most rewarding when the forensics supports my hypothesis.
Q: How have you excelled in the industry?
A: Everything is constantly changing, so I am learning, testing, and getting more field experience. I do well, but there is so much more to learn. I embrace the training and classes, and I soak up the technology.
Q: What kind of response do you get at loss scenes?
A: With my background in firefighting, that service gives me more respect, than just the “woman investigator.” The conversation continues once that respect is established and there haven’t been any issues or problems.
Q: What happened at your first criminal trial?
A: It was an arson case. Counsel for the defense did not want me qualified as an expert. The attorney hammered me for two days in prelim over it, then the judge qualified me. Then for trial, I came in the courtroom dressed in overalls and carrying my tools to show the jury I did get “dirty” working the scene. It was a bit of theatrics, but it worked.
Laura is an artist, athlete, architect, firefighter, mother, breast cancer survivor, investigator, etc. Cozen O’Connor thanks Laura Cygan for this interview and for being a true leader in subrogation.
Stay tuned for the next post highlighting another prominent subro leader.