Processing Magazine

Jury awards Nicaraguan banana workers $2.5 million more

November 26, 2007

The Associated Press reports that a jury recently found that Dole should pay $2.5 million in punitive damages to five workers who claimed they were made sterile by use of a pesticide on Nicaraguan banana plantations in the 1970s. Last week, the Superior Court jury awarded $3.3 million in actual damages to six workers, most of it to be paid by California-based Dole Fresh Fruit Co. and the remainder by Dow Chemical Co. of Michigan. The jury''s finding that Dole acted maliciously in harming five of the six allowed punitive damages to be considered for the five. The punitive damages were to be split evenly among the five workers exposed to the pesticide known as DBCP. Twelve workers originally filed the lawsuit, but the jury determined that only six had been substantially harmed by the pesticide DBCP. The six were awarded actual damages ranging from $311,200 to $834,000 each. The case marked the first time a U.S. jury heard a lawsuit involving sterility and DBCP. Legal experts said the case raised the issue of whether multinational companies should be held accountable in the country where they are based or the countries where they employ workers. The lawsuit named Westlake Village, Calif.-based Dole Food Co., Dole Fresh Fruit Co., Standard Fruit Co., and Standard Fruit and Steamship Co. The Standard companies are now part of Dole. Also sued were Dow and Amvac Chemical Co., manufacturers of the pesticide. The lawsuit accused Dole of negligence and fraudulent concealment while using DBCP. It alleged the manufacturers knew it could leave workers sterile and concealed that information. Amvac reached a $300,000 settlement before the trial.