“Witnesses feared being killed if they testified about the fraud”

by Walter Olson on April 23, 2009

Explosive testimony in a Los Angeles courtroom after a judge begins digging into indications of possible fraud in lawsuits by Nicaraguans against Dole Food alleging toxic harms from banana pesticides (L.A. Times via Cal Biz Lit, WSJ law blog; earlier at Overlawyered). The fraud went on for decades, a Dole lawyer charged, and included recruiting and coaching poor Nicaraguan men to pose as having been rendered sterile, even if they had children and had never worked on banana plantations. A California jury had awarded millions of dollars in one of a string of cases that drew controversy over the competence of stateside courts in evaluating claims over injuries that took place in foreign countries. According to the L.A. Times, one lawyer representing the plaintiff’s side in the litigation expressed regret over the actions of a co-counsel and said “all parties were in a nightmare situation.” Bloomberg:

Most of the employment records of Dole workers in Nicaragua were destroyed in the aftermath of the Sandinista revolution, opening the door to the fraudulent claims, Edelman said at the hearing.

Nicaraguan witnesses for Dole whose faces were hidden and whose voices were distorted to prevent identification, said in videotaped statements shown in court that they feared retribution if it became known they provided information to company investigators.

“They even would set fire to my house, even with my family in there,” one witness said. “These people don’t care.”

The cases of thousands more plaintiffs from poor banana-growing countries are waiting for trial in Los Angeles; Dow Chemical is also a defendant, because it manufactured the pesticide. [Update Apr. 24: judge tosses two consolidated lawsuits against Dole]

For another dramatic episode in which poor Latin American plaintiffs have surfaced in U.S. courts with hard-to-disprove claims, see the case of purportedly illegitimate Guatemalan children left fatherless by international air crashes (Nov. 29, 2000).

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Banana worker suit scandal, cont’d
05.06.09 at 7:39 am

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1 Anonymous Attorney 04.23.09 at 11:37 am

What if Hollywood made a movie where actual events were dramatized, i.e., a company being fleeced by evildoing plaintiffs and plaintiff lawyers, instead of vice-versa?

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