The jury verdict in California that awarded millions of dollars to Nicaraguan field hands who applied pesticides to Dole Food Co. crops and who are now sterile has been overturned by the trial judge. Although the decision leaves four workers with $1.58 million, it will affect claims of an estimated 6,000 others who have sued in the United States for similar injuries suffered outside of this country. The judge overturned jury verdicts in the first trials in this country of claims filed by victims of the pesticide DBCP. This pesticide was produced 30 years ago but is now banned worldwide. The judge found that, because Dole was a user and not a marketer of the pesticide, the firm cannot be subjected to liability without fault.
The judge ruled that punitive damages can’t be used to punish “a domestic corporation for injuries that occurred only in a foreign country.” The fact that the injuries occurred more than 30 years ago was another factor the judge cited in reversing the verdicts. There are other cases pending in California against Dole filed by plaintiffs from Nicaragua. I understand there are an additional 10,000 pesticide claims pending worldwide for about $35 billion.
The case was widely seen by legal scholars as a test of how well the U.S. legal system could respond to injuries inflicted in a globalized economy. Because the harm occurred in Central America, the defendants had argued for years that the trials should take place there, rather than in the United States. Workers in Nicaragua have won as much as $600 million in damages against Dole and other producers, but have yet to collect one dime. This verdict is being seen as an additional deterrent to future lawsuits in the United States. The chemical DBCP fights pests that attack the roots of fruit trees and boosts the weight of banana harvests by 20%, according to testimony from the California trial. It has rendered field hands and production workers sterile. It appears that these workers may wind up being victims of corporate wrongdoing with no real remedy available to them, and that’s unfortunate.
Source: Los Angeles Times
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