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The Detroit News: Nicaraguans winner of Dow pesticide suit

Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Edvard Pettersson / Bloomberg News

Dow Chemical Co. and Dole Food Co. were found liable for causing the sterility of six of 12 Nicaraguan plantation workers in the first U.S. jury trial over a pesticide used in Central America.

A Los Angeles jury Monday awarded $3.29 million to the six workers, who sued Midland- based Dow and closely held Dole, based in Westlake Village, Calif., in 2004. The jury of five women and seven men will hear arguments today on whether to award punitive damages.

At least 16,000 Latin American workers have sued in U.S. courts over the past two decades seeking damages from chemical companies that made the pesticide dibromochloropropane and growers that used it.

Judges have dismissed most cases, often saying the workers must use courts in their home countries.

“Dow Chemical is pleased that this jury concluded that six out of 12 plaintiffs were entitled to no recovery whatsoever,” Gennaro Filice, a lawyer for the largest U.S. chemical maker, said after the verdict was read. He declined to say whether the company will appeal.

The jury said Dow was responsible for 20 percent of the damages of five plaintiffs and 40 percent of the damages of a sixth, a total of $754,000. Dole is responsible for the balance.

American Vanguard Corp., a Newport Beach, Calif.-based maker of agricultural chemicals, agreed in April to pay $300,000 to settle with the workers. Several thousand claims by plantation workers from Central America are pending before the same judge, Victoria Chaney, in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Pesticides are made by the Dow Agrosciences unit, which had sales last year of $3.4 billion, or 6.9 percent of Dow’s total.

The trial is the first before an American jury in a case by foreign workers against U.S. corporations over use of dibromochloropropane, said Duane Miller, an attorney for the plaintiffs. A federal judge in Los Angeles four years ago refused to enforce $489 million in judgments a Nicaraguan court imposed on Dole, Dow and Royal Dutch/Shell Group.

Dow Chemical shares closed down 26 cents, or 0.59 percent, at $43.71 in New York Stock Exchange trading Monday.

In other Dow news Monday, industry consultants’ affidavits said two fired Dow Chemical Co. executives shopped the company to investors. The court documents support claims by the company that the men breached their corporate duties.

J. Pedro Reinhard and Romeo Kreinberg, fired in April, said they had never participated in unauthorized meetings to sell the company. Dow’s filing Monday in federal court in Bay City states that the consultants said they participated in the disloyal effort, contradicting the two executives’ defense.

Reinhard attorney Gary Naftalis and Kreinberg lawyer Stanley Arkin didn’t immediately return calls for comment.

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