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Yes, There’s An Attorney Behind Actor Morgan Freeman’s Ads for Air Bag Recall

The Podhurst Orseck litigator has served as lead counsel in the multidistrict litigation over the defective vehicle safety parts. He and settlement administrator Patrick Juneau remain concerned that many drivers are still operating vehicles with Takata air bags.

By Zach Schlein | August 20, 2019 Peter Prieto, with Podhurst Orseck. Photo: J. Albert Diaz/ALM.

Peter Prieto, the Podhurst Orseck partner who helped litigate the largest automotive recall in U.S. history, has a connection to a new advertising featuring Academy Award-winner Morgan Freeman.

His work and others helped lead to a new consumer awareness campaign that launched in August, featuring Freeman.

The spots, which have been airing on radio, television and digital platforms, see the “Seven” actor ask viewers to check if their automobiles have been recalled for dangerous air bags. They point to a website, SafeAirbags.com, which provides a list of vehicle manufacturers, makes and models that carry Takata air bags impacted by the recall.

The ads are the result of settlements with automakers in multidistrict litigation over air bags manufactured by Takata Corp., whose faulty equipment left car accident victims with additional injuries they otherwise would not have suffered.

Prieto was lead counsel in the multidistrict litigation.

“What was unique was a significant portion of the settlement funds were to be used for outreach,” he said, because millions of recalled air bags remain on the road.

According to the Associated Press, at least 24 deaths and 200 injuries have been tied to Takata’s defective air bags. A December 2018 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said as of October 2018, nearly 17 million Takata air bag inflators subject to the recall had not been repaired, and 10 million more models were expected to be added to the recall list.

The legal action, which was brought against nearly all automakers and represented more than 40 million plaintiffs, sought financial compensation for those who suffered monetary losses or incurred expenses because of the recall.

Over the last three years, Prieto and his co-counsel have secured $1.5 billion in settlement awards from car manufacturers who used Takata’s vehicle safety equipment in their products. This includes Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Subaru, Mazda and BMW.

The attorney said the scope of the recall required the parties to utilize “nontraditional, creative ways” to reach drivers who might be unaware they’re driving with Takata air bags.

“In the past … automakers just sent out emails, or even letters,” Prieto said. “What would happen is people would simply look at letters and toss them out.”

Prieto credited the litigation’s settlement administrator, Patrick Juneau of Juneau David, with formulating a means of meaningfully alerting consumers to the dangers their car may pose. Juneau, who’s based out of Lafayette, Louisiana, and was appointed by U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno to the case, said he’s aware customers often ignore warnings posed by public awareness campaigns.

“We are trying to cut through that noise and capture the attention of those affected in creative ways, and there is no voice more iconic or authoritative or trustworthy than Mr. Freeman’s,” Juneau said in a statement. He said Freeman “immediately saw the importance of the campaign” and was partly motivated by the millions of people it stood to affect.

“His captivating voice and demeanor and delivery immediately captures the attention of a wide range of consumers across the country, and therefore is more [to] likely raise greater awareness and understanding across a broader grouping of people regarding this urgent safety recall,” Juneau added.

Prieto said the settlement and ensuing campaign has resulted in a unique degree of collaboration between the plaintiffs, the settlement administrators and the defendants. However, he asserted long-term work still remains in not only ensuring customer’s safety, but in the courtroom as well.

“We are still litigating, and that litigation is pending against General Motors, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and Fiat Chrysler,” Prieto said. “We’re going to continue to litigate with them until there is either a trial or resolution. We’re simply going to press forward and make sure we obtain relief for our class members as we got with the previous class members. And if it’s by trial or settlement, so be it.”