Provost Umphrey, Dole reach settlement in pesticide suits

Marilyn Tennissen Oct. 6, 2011, 9:15am

After years of litigation, The Dole Food Co. Inc. and Beaumont's Provost Umphrey Law Firm LLP have reached an agreement to settle all the litigation the firm filed on behalf of more than 5,000 foreign farm workers claiming injuries from pesticides.

The settlement includes five lawsuits in the United States and 33 lawsuits in Nicaragua, according to a Dole company press release on Oct. 3.

Provost Umphrey represented thousands of Central and South American banana pickers who claim they were left sterile after exposure to the pesticide dibromochloropropane, or DBCP, which was used by Dole on its banana plantations in the 1970s and 80s. The U.S. banned DBCP in 1977 after studies linked the chemical to infertility in male workers.

"This settlement is a business-based solution to this dispute, without any causal connection between DBCP and the plaintiffs' allegations," Michael Carter, Dole's executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary said. "It furthers Dole's plan to find possible business-based solutions for all DBCP claims, even though there is no reliable scientific basis for alleged injuries from the agricultural field application of DBCP."

According to Dole, the 33 Nicaraguan cases represent $9 billion in claims, including two previous judgments totaling $907 million.

"We reached a point where it was good for them and for us," Mark Sparks, an attorney with the Provost firm, told the Wall Street Journal Law Blog. "Based on how adversarial we have been with Dole in the past, I'm pleased both sides were able to set that aside and do what's right."

Although the parties have agreed to the settlement, Dole has a number of stipulations that must be met before it will distribute any funds.

First, Dole wants a good faith settlement determination from the Los Angeles Superior Court that is presiding over four of the U.S. cases. On Nov. 3, the court will rule on the good faith determination and confirm the fairness of the settlement to all parties involved.

Dole also wants a signed release from each plaintiff, which means contacting thousands of workers in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Honduras.

Yet after years of legal wrangling, the world's largest fruit and vegetable producer had praise for its adversary.

"Dole appreciates the commitment by Provost & Umphrey and their clients to resolving this long-standing dispute and looks forward to completing the full implementation of the settlement," Carter said. "The professionalism exemplified by Provost & Umphrey made possible this tremendous accomplishment."

According to a release from the Provost Umphrey firm, its DBCP cases on behalf of workers in Guatemala and Panama are not part of the settlement agreement.

Full implementation of the settlement is targeted to occur by the end of 2011, Dole said.

In 2009, more than $2 billion in judgments against Dole were called into question due to allegations that plaintiffs fabricated evidence of their alleged injuries from the pesticide DBCP.

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