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War Crime AccusationsEdit
Jury holds Dole liable for punitive damages, By John Spano, November 8, 2007, Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times
Nicaraguan farmworkers had already been granted $3.2 million in compensatory damages from the food company. The latest ruling opens the door for an additional award.
Dole Foods of Westlake Village should be liable for civil punishment for concealing health dangers posed to workers by a pesticide used on its Nicaraguan banana plantations 30 years ago, jurors in a Los Angeles courtroom decided Wednesday.
The decision clears the way for punitive damages in addition to the $3.2 million that jurors awarded the workers earlier this week to compensate them for their injuries. The workers alleged they had been rendered sterile by the pesticide DBCP -- now banned in the United States -- which was used on Dole plantations.
The jury in the courtroom of Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Victoria G. Chaney also on Wednesday fixed damages for Dow Chemical, the producer of the pesticide, at about $754,000 total for the six workers involved, according to Dow lawyer Gennaro Filice.
Chaney told jurors to return Nov. 14 to begin hearing arguments about punitive damages against Dole. Punitive damages in California are designed to punish wrongdoers, and are generally considered to be capped at about 10 times actual damages.
Dow's portion of the case was governed by Michigan law, which caps liability under formulas based on how much damage -- according to jurors -- the workers were determined to have sustained.
Jurors earlier ruled that DBCP was a defective product.
Already, courts in Nicaragua have levied more than $600 million in judgments against Dole and other companies, according to lawyers for the workers -- judgments that have proved impossible to collect so far. The verdicts announced Monday marked the first case of foreign farmworkers prevailing in a U.S. court against Dole and Dow over harm from DBCP.
Four more lawsuits are pending in Los Angeles in which thousands of workers from Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala and Panama allege that they, too, were injured by the use of DBCP on plantations. Lawyers for workers say tens of thousands have sued worldwide over the chemical.
Dole officials called the verdicts unjust and said they would appeal. They pointed out that jurors rejected the allegations of six other Nicaraguan workers.
Dole must pay $2.5 million to banana workers, By John Spano, November 16, 2007, Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times, Alexander Renderos in Nicaragua contributed to this report.
Verdict on behalf of five Nicaraguans punishes the grower for using a banned pesticide.
A Los Angeles jury ordered Dole Food Co. on Thursday to pay five Nicaraguan banana plantation workers $2.5 million as punishment for concealing the dangers of a pesticide that rendered them unable to have children.
The verdict, which awarded far less in punitive damages than some observers expected, was hailed as a victory by attorneys on both sides. It follows a Nov. 5 jury award of $3.2 million in compensatory damages.
The five-month trial marked the first time a U.S. jury had found Dole liable for its conduct outside of the United States, and may pave the way for future judgments. Some 6,800 other workers have filed suit over Dole's use of the pesticide DBCP, which has been banned worldwide.
Dole attorney Rick McKnight said the verdict was "a huge defeat" for the workers. "It doesn't even pay their costs, much less their bills," he said.
Overall, the workers were awarded $5.7 million from jurors who found that the Westlake Village-based corporation acted fraudulently when it sent workers into its Nicaraguan fields without warning them that the pesticide had sterilized California plant workers.
Duane Miller, the field hands' attorney, said the verdict sends an important message to Dole, which employs 75,000 workers worldwide and describes itself as the nation's largest grower of fruits and vegetables.
"It lets [Dole] know that they're accountable for what they do, even if they do it south of our border," Miller said. "Our reputation as a country is partially dependent on the reputations of our corporations doing things overseas."
The Nicaraguan lawyer for the workers, Antonio Hernandez Ordeñana, said his clients were "not trying to enrich themselves."
"What really matters is that Dole sterilized these peasants and thousands more humble Nicaraguan peasants, and in the rest of Central America, and we proved it. That is what counts, and I'm proud of it," Ordeñana said.
To some legal observers, the award was surprisingly low.
"Dole got out of this very cheaply," said USC law professor Clare Pastore. "It had the potential to be a blockbuster case, and it didn't turn out that way."
During the trial, Dole's lawyers urged jurors not to hold the sins of the "old Dole" from 1977 against the "new Dole" of today. The company, McKnight said, now emphasizes worker and environmental safety.
Jurors said they were widely separated on the amount of the punitive damages.
Juror Kathy Achee said she wanted to sock Dole for $5 million for each of the workers, but compromised.
"I think $500,000 wasn't a huge punishment for a corporation like Dole," Achee said. "I don't think it's that big of a deterrent. I don't know that $5 million would be enough."
Juror Lonnie Chin said she entered the final deliberations feeling that the workers already had been paid enough in compensatory damages last week.
According to Alejandro Garro, a professor of Latin American law at Columbia University, it is the verdict itself, rather than the amount, that is important. It will make corporations such as Dole "pay attention to what they do abroad," he said.
Dole alleges fraud by witnesses in Nicaragua pesticide suit, Associated Press, April 22, 2009 A lawyer for Dole says men were recruited to pose as injured banana workers in a scheme to collect millions in damages. He says witnesses feared being killed if they testified about the fraud.
A lawyer for Dole Fresh Fruit Co. outlined to a judge on Tuesday evidence of a scheme to collect millions of dollars in damages by recruiting men to pose as having been rendered sterile from exposure to a pesticide on Nicaraguan banana plantations.
Attorney Scott Edelman told a hearing that witnesses feared being killed for testifying about the scheme. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Victoria G. Chaney said she was concerned for the safety of investigators and attorneys and feared obstruction of justice and interference with due process.
The allegations involve lawsuits over the pesticide DBCP, which was used in the 1970s and then banned over health issues.
A Los Angeles jury in November 2007 awarded $2.5 million in punitive damages to five workers, but the court later dismissed those damages, saying they could not be used to punish a domestic corporation for injuries that occurred only in a foreign country.
The jury also awarded more than $3 million in actual damages, which were later reduced to $1.58 million.
The case marked the first time a U.S. jury heard a lawsuit involving sterility and DBCP. That lawsuit alleged that Dole continued to use the pesticide, which is now banned worldwide, long after its dangers were known.
In an opening statement at Tuesday's hearing, Edelman described what he said was a decade-long conspiracy to defraud U.S. companies.
The Dole attorney said lawyers in Nicaragua recruited poverty-stricken men to pose as plantation workers and claim they had been rendered sterile by use of the pesticide on bananas.
The men were given training seminars, told to study hard and learn details of the industry, and to hide their children because they would prove the men were not sterile, Edelman said.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs who sought to sue Dole made only a brief opening statement. But one of the lawyers, Michael Axline, said he agreed with the Dole lawyer that "all parties were in a nightmare situation."
He expressed regrets for the actions of a onetime co-counsel in Nicaragua who is now accused of engineering the fraud.
Chaney has been the judge in lawsuits filed in Los Angeles against Westlake Village, Calif.-based Dole and Michigan-based Dow Chemical Co., which manufactured the pesticide.
Dole Gets Into The Movie Criticism BusinessEdit
- See Also: Dibromochloropropane