Chiquita faces Ecuadoran farm workers' pesticide poisoning lawsuit

A Delaware federal magistrate judge has denied produce company Chiquita's request to be let out of litigation concerning Ecuadorian farm workers' claims that they were poisoned from exposure to pesticides used on bananas.

US magistrate judge Sherry R. Fallon of the District of Delaware denied Chiquita’s motion to dismiss it from the Ecuadoran portion of a mass tort lawsuit filed by workers from South and Central America against multiple companies, including Dole Foods Co. Inc. and Dow Chemical Co. Chiquita is incorporated in Delaware.

Fallon said in a report and recommendations issued July 16 that although the Ecuadoran plaintiffs currently have no specific claims against Chiquita, they do have the opportunity to conduct additional discovery that could develop into concrete allegations, pursuant to a scheduling order in the case that provides direction for such disputes.

The plaintiffs, who are from Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica, claimed exposure to the pesticide dibromochloropropane (DBCP), which was sprayed in the soil and fields of banana plantations from the 1960s to the 1980s.

According to Fallon’s report and recommendation, the workers allegedly wore no gloves, protective clothing or breathing equipment to prevent inhalation and absorption of the chemical into their systems.

The workers alleged that as a result of the exposure, they now suffer from sterility, cancer, miscarriages, compromised renal systems, compromised respiration systems, chronic skin disorders, testicular atrophy, impotence, headaches and chronic stomach ailments, according to Fallon.

The mass tort action was filed in 2012 and was originally dismissed. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that lower court’s finding that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the case was erroneous and sent it back for further proceedings.

Included in the 2018 scheduling order in question was a statement from Chiquita claiming its belief that it was not a proper party in the case.

“The scheduling order directed initial discovery and trial preparation efforts on the claims of the Ecuadorian plaintiffs,” according to a footnote in Fallon’s opinion. “Once the initial screening process was completed as to all Ecuadorian plaintiffs, the Panamanian plaintiffs were to begin the initial screening process, followed by the Costa Rican plaintiffs.”

Scott Hendler of HendlerFlores Law in Austin represents the plaintiffs and did not respond to a request for comment. Larry Wood Jr. of Blank Rome in Wilmington represents Chiquita and also did not respond to a request for comment.

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