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COSTA RICA: Court Rules Dupont's Fungicide Damaged Costa Rican Farmers' Crops

Environment News Service
May 18th, 2006

Lead counsel Don Russo of Don Russo, P.A., and lawyers with Holland & Hart Wednesday obtained an award of $113.48 million on behalf of 27 Costa Rican leatherleaf fern farmers in a lawsuit against E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co.

The lawsuit brought against DuPont proved that its fungicide, Benlate(R), permanently damaged the farmers' crops of leatherleaf fern, used in floral arrangements.

Plaintiffs' attorneys worked with the country's leading agronomists and biologists and invested $8.5 million in their investigation into the true cause of crop damage.

Russo says the new scientific evidence discovered and presented in this case may initiate a new round of cases against DuPont.

"We worked diligently for five years to prove that Benlate permanently damaged the crops on which it is used," said Russo. "While DuPont presented a smorgasbord of possible explanations for the plant distortions, not one held up in light of the new scientific evidence we were able to provide."

"It was exceedingly clear that this product destroyed the livelihood of these 27 farmers. For the first time in more than 15 years since Benlate was sold, science has finally explained why Benlate is so damaging to crops - and not just in the year it is applied, but for the entire life cycle of the plants treated with it."

The new scientific evidence presented at trial showed that permanent crop damage was sustained when Benlate was applied to crops and absorbed by the plants' cells, which subsequently killed all natural microbes within the plants.

This allowed other bacteria to persistently dominate in the crops and caused visible distortions in the plants. These distortions in the fern's leaves made them unfit for use in floral arrangements and therefore unfit for sale, effectively closing down the farms that produced them.

The case was tried in the 11th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida with Judge Amy Steele Donner presiding.

Plaintiffs' attorneys successfully argued that the court should try the case in the United States due to the company's significant South Florida presence, setting a precedent for farmers in foreign countries to initiate future lawsuits against the company in U.S. courts.

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