For more than 25 years, Podhurst Orseck partner Peter Prieto has focused his practice on complex commercial litigation, including class actions and white-collar criminal defense. He has represented clients in an array of civil litigation, including business and employment disputes, health care, antitrust, product liability, anti-corruption law and class action litigation.
Prieto serves as the only Florida lawyer on the plaintiffs’ executive committee in In re General Motors LLC Ignition Switch Litigation MDL No. 2543.
Here, he discusses law during the pandemic, and the biggest trends emerging in complex commercial litigation. His answers have been edited for length, clarity and news style.
What was your biggest lesson in 2020?
That life both personally and professionally can change in an instant, and that it’s important to be able to adapt and change. Even more important is to not take for granted some of the things we do routinely, whether it’s shaking hands or hugging a friend or relative, or sharing a meal with a friend or colleague.
What’s the biggest litigation trend you’re seeing right now?
I would say the biggest trend as of now appears to be antitrust. We have a pending antitrust case against Norwegian Salmon Farmers here in South Florida. We also have an antitrust case, which was dismissed and is currently on appeal against Burger King. They have no-poach agreements in their franchise agreements. The case dealt with franchisees being prohibited from recruiting employees of another franchisee, which we alleged depresses wages among Burger King employees. We are also involved in an antitrust case, alleging price fixing and allocation of territories against numerous Blue Shield and Blue Cross entities that is pending in Alabama, and is considered one of the largest antitrust cases ever filed. With antitrust trending, and the Biden administration ramping up antitrust enforcement, we’ll likely be seeing more antitrust cases being filed.
Another area which has also been trending for a while now are automotive defect cases. The Takata air bags, which involved defective air bags and the largest automotive recall in U.S. history, is being litigated right here in our District. And there are many other similar defect cases here in our District as well as around the country.
Are there any big areas of opportunity for your practice in 2021?
I think the three areas on the commercial and class action side of our practice that are significant are antitrust, consumer litigation which are generally class actions by consumers whether they are purchasing cars or dealing with financial institutions. Another big area is likely to be environmental litigation given some of the emphasis on climate change and the environment.
How would you say the court closures has affected your practice?
The biggest effect the court closures have had on every litigator’s practice, especially those who practice on the plaintiff’s side, is that if you don’t have the deadline or threat of a jury trial, cases take longer to settle. Although cases have moved forward via Zoom and other technology, you can’t try those cases. So I believe the biggest impact is not having trials, especially jury trials, which I think at the end of the day brings parties to the table and the cases are settled.
What do you think is the most important thing for you and perhaps other lawyers to focus on at this point in the pandemic?
The biggest thing for all lawyers is how to transition back to in-person hearings, depositions and trials. I believe what is on most people’s minds is the transition back to normality, and how we will proceed to do it while staying safe.
What distinguishes your firm from others? What makes you unique?
What distinguishes our firm from others is the high quality of the work that our firm produces across the board, and more importantly the results it achieves in large and sophisticated cases. We do a lot of work on contingency, which carries a great deal of risk, though we minimize that risk somewhat by carefully vetting our cases. So those three qualities high quality, results and risk are what makes our firm unique.
Can you cite tactics that exemplify your firm’s approach to success?
One of our best and most important tactics starts at the beginning, we do our due diligence on the cases that we bring. We don’t believe in bringing cases that we don’t think are good cases that are not going to succeed. Although we don’t always get it right, investigating and determining if a case is worth filing in the first place is definitely a factor in our firm’s success.
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