Since O’Reilly Collins began handling SUV rollovers in 1999, the San Mateo firm has doubled in size from four to eight lawyers. But they are no free ride for the attorneys who handle them.

Michael Danko doesn’t like SUV rollover suits. The injuries, he says, are often sadly devastating, the clients physically and emotionally crushed.

But O’Reilly Collins & Danko has settled about 20 such cases since 1999. Rollover suits now account for about half the firm’s annual revenue. And that figure could grow. The firm is pursuing 15 more cases, including one set for trial next month in San Mateo County.

Since O’Reilly Collins began handling SUV rollovers in 1999, the San Mateo firm has doubled in size from four to eight lawyers.

“The firm could not have sustained the growth it did if it did not have the SUV litigation,” Danko said.

Christine Spagnoli, who specializes in such cases for Santa Monica’s Greene, Broillet, Panish & Wheeler, says her firm has also profited from rollover litigation.

“We’ve become more and more concentrated in doing these kinds of cases,” said Spagnoli, whose firm has brought about 50 SUV suits since 1999.

They require six-figure funding for experts and a keen eye for spotting victims sympathetic enough to keep the focus on the truck’s alleged malfunctions rather than their own. Automakers vigorously defend the cases and do their best to scare plaintiffs attorneys away.

But for attorneys that can navigate the obstacles, SUV rollover cases have become a reliable vehicle for growth.

Like many other plaintiffs lawyers, Danko began aggressively pursuing SUV litigation in 2000, when Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. bared themselves to extensive litigation by publicly blaming one another for a series of violent rollovers.

“There was just an explosion of people’s awareness because of how many Ford Explorer rollovers there were with Firestone,” said Spagnoli, whose firm has filed about 50 such cases since 1999.

That explosion triggered a blast of quick settlements from Ford in cases that involved tire failure.

But for plaintiffs attorneys, the good times passed quickly as Ford began aggressively defending itself.

“Plaintiffs attorneys were spoiled,” said Warren Platt, a partner in Snell & Wilmer’s Phoenix office who defends Ford in rollover cases. “They thought if they filed, someone would just bring the money truck.”

Plaintiffs attorneys looking for easy money moved on to other targets. Those that remained learned that bringing an SUV rollover case now requires a money truck of its own.

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