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Published on Wed, Jun 8, 2005

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

Barbie killed in SUV rollover (


With all the criticism leveled at SUVs (sport utility vehicles) for their high center of gravity and the resultant proclivity to rolling over during accidents, there's one industry that has benefited from all of it. According to Justin Scheck of The Recorder, trial lawyers have found rollover litigation to be good business in the legal community. Attorney Michael Danko says he doesn't like SUV rollover suits. The injuries, he told The Recorder, are often sadly devastating, the clients physically and emotionally crushed. But the law firm of O'Reilly Collins & Danko has settled approximately 20 such cases since 1999. Rollover suits now account for about half the firm's annual revenue, according to Scheck. The firm is reportedly 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. "The firm could not have sustained the growth it did if it did not have the SUV litigation," Danko told The Recorder. Christine Spagnoli, who specializes in such cases for Santa Monica's Greene, Broillet, Panish & Wheeler, informed The Recorder that 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. "For attorneys that can navigate the obstacles, SUV rollover cases have become a reliable vehicle for growth," says Scheck. "Case selection is probably the key," Spagnoli told The Recorder. "I look for cases where the passengers are seatbelted. I look for cases where there is no drinking or drugs, and no egregious driver error, such as falling asleep." Spagnoli points to the case of Jodie Schloss, a college student whose Geo Tracker rolled over with no apparent driver error, rendering her a spastic quadriplegic. "She had been on this television program just before the accident, and was so articulate and so beautiful," Spagnoli said. "To have this videotape from before the accident, and then to see this physically challenged person" made the case extremely difficult to defend. It settled in 2001 on the weekend before jury selection was set to begin. The cases that do end up in trial are often those where driving mistakes caused a rollover whose injuries, the plaintiff lawyers argue, should have been prevented by better engineering. Both defense and plaintiff lawyers agree that SUV rollover litigation shows no signs of stopping, says Scheck. "In fact, it's likely to increase, with Ford the leading target, as the number of Explorers on the road continues to grow." - Roy Nakano This article first appeared in the LA Car Blog.

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