Marilyn Tennissen Sep. 12, 2012, 1:28pm

Beaumont's Provost Umphrey Law Firm announced today that a settlement has been reached with Dole Food Co. Inc. in all litigation brought by banana pickers who claimed they were harmed by pesticides.

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

According to a press release from the law firm, the Dole settlement involves litigation from three of those countries, Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica.

The 38 Nicaraguan cases represent $9 billion in claims, including two previous judgments totaling $907 million, according to a press release from Dole.

"The termination of these 38 lawsuits takes Dole completely out of all Provost Umphrey DBCP litigation, including the two judgments pending in the Nicaragua courts, and moves Dole closer to the eventual elimination of all DBCP lawsuits,” said C. Michael Carter, Dole's executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary.

As the Southeast Texas Record previously reported, the settlement was first reached in October 2011, but Dole had a number of stipulations it wanted met before it began to distribute 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. The company also wanted a signed release from each plaintiff, which meant the attorneys had to contact thousands of workers in Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica.

"The California state court examined and vetted the Dole settlement for our clients--including the confidential amount paid--and determined it to be in good faith," Provost Umphrey attorney Mark Sparks stated.

The firm says it will continue DBCP suits against other defendants, including Dow, Shell, Occidental, Del Monte and Chiquita. Litigation will also continue in Guatemala and Panama.

"We believe this settlement validates our firm's efforts on behalf of DBCP victims and will support the continued litigation against the remaining defendants for as long as necessary to obtain justice for our clients," said Sparks.

The completed agreement will not have a material effect on Dole's financial condition, results of operations or cash flows, the company said in a press release.

“Though there is no reliable scientific basis for alleged injuries from the agricultural field application of DBCP, Dole has been willing to consider possible agreements which recognize that there is no causal connection between DBCP and plaintiffs’ allegations," Carter said.

Funds for the Dole settlement will be available at the disclosed banks for client distribution in a few days, according to the law firm's press release.


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