by the El Reportero wire services
Approximately 5,000 agricultural workers from Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama have filed five lawsuits in the United States, claiming they were left sterile due to the exposure to the pesticide, DBCP, in the 1970s.
Jury selection for the first of the lawsuits is scheduled to begin Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
According to Duane Miller, one of the attorneys representing more than 30 Nicaraguan plaintiffs who worked on plantations from 1964 to 1990, this is the first time any case for a banana worker has come before a U.S. court.
Legal experts said the issue is raised by the cases that whether multinational companies should be held accountable in the country where they are based or the countries where they employ workers.
If those workers win the cases, a door could be open for others to file similar claims in the U.S., where juries are known for awarding bigger judgments.
“The administration of justice in developing countries in comparison to the administration of justice in the U.S. – there’s a big gap,” said Alejandro Garro, a Columbia University law professor.
“The significance of it is we’re talking about a global economy where big business does business all over the world and where we don’t have a uniform type of justice,” he added, according to an Associated Press report.
Dole Fresh Fruit Co. and Standard Fruit Co., now a part of Dole, is accused by the upcoming lawsuit, which was filed in 2004, of negligence and fraudulent concealment while using the pesticide.
According to the lawsuit Dow Chemical Co. and Amvac Chemical Corp., manufacturers of the pesticide, “actively suppressed information about DBCP’s reproductive toxicity”.
Attorney Erin Burke, who represents Westlake-based Dole, and Kelly Kozuma, a spokeswoman for Newport Beach-based Amvac, declined to comment.
A spokesman for Midland, Michigan-based Dow, Scot Wheeler said in an e-mail that the lawsuits were without merit, and that “there are no generally accepted studies in the scientific community of which we are aware which establishes an effect on sterility in banana farm workers” exposed periodically to the chemical.
Wheeler also wrote that workers bringing these claims rotated jobs often or changed jobs altogether with enough frequency that long-term exposure would have been fairly unusual and it is not likely that there is any injury whatsoever related to DBCP.