Lawsuits against Dole on behalf of Nicaraguan banana pickers allegedly exposed to pesticides have been in the news this summer after a California judge ruled that some of the plaintiffs’ attorneys committed fraud.
Now an investigation by the Wall Street Journal is casting doubt on the tactics used in Nicaraguan suits by one of Beaumont’s biggest law firms.
In an Aug. 19 article, the WSJ talked with a Nicaraguan doctor who worked with Provost Umphrey attorneys when the firm first began soliciting former banana workers in 2000.
The doctor said the attorneys recommended a lab where the men that had worked for Dole could be tested for sterility. He became suspicious when every one of the men turned up sterile.
The controversy surrounds the use of the chemical DBCP, used around the world to control nematodes that attack crops.
Dole began using the pesticide on its banana plantations in Nicaragua in 1973. The chemical was banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency six years later.
By 1983, lawyers had begun filing lawsuits in the U.S. against Dole and DBCP manufacturers on behalf of thousands of Central American banana workers.
Provost Umphrey set up shop in Chinandega, a northern town in the center of Nicaragua’s banana country, in 2000.
In Chinandega, Dr. Mario Pastora was helping other attorneys test former banana workers for sterility. Dr. Pastora said he was then approached by Provost Umphrey.
Dr. Pastora told the WSJ that the law firm recommended a local lab owned and operated by Bayardo J. Barrios, and he sent about 80 prospective plaintiffs there.
“The lab results, in all of the tests, they were 100 percent sterile,” the physician said. “I was astounded.”
The next day, the article states, Dr. Pastora sent 55 more men to the lab and showed up unannounced.
“While sitting at a desk, he says, he discovered a pile of sperm-test results already completed, stating that each man was sterile,” the WSJ article states. “The men hadn’t yet been tested, he says.”
According to the WSJ, Dr. Pastora reported this to Provost Umphrey’s office administrator and the firm’s two local lawyers. When the doctor suggested the firm use another lab to retest the men, the lawyers refused.
Dr. Pastora told the WSJ it was at that point that he resigned and refused to be paid for the work he did for the firm.
The newspaper interviewed lab owner Barrios, who said Dr. Pastora’s story was totally false.
He said out of around 1,000 sterility tests performed, only about half of the former banana workers were sterile.
In the WSJ article, Barnard Zavala, one of Provost Umphrey’s Nicaraguan attorneys, also denied Dr. Pastora’s account.
The Texas law firm issued a statement saying, “Every Provost Umphrey Nicaraguan client who was tested by Dr. Barrios who could physically give another sample was tested again at a different lab.”
The statement didn’t discuss the results of the retests, the WSJ states.