Dole Philippine banana worker decision 'heartbreaking', says attorney
The plaintiffs in the class action suit Macasa v. Dole claimed they were injured by alleged exposure to agricultural chemical DBCP 30 years ago, but judge Jane Johnson dismissed the allegations with prejudice.
In a press release, Dole's executive vice president and general counsel C. Michael Carter said the case never should have been heard in the first place.
"There is simply no reliable scientific basis for alleged injuries from the agricultural field application of DBCP, and the fraudulent claims in Macasa were no different than other similar cases," he said.
The company is also a defendant in the ongoing case Antonio Rojas Laguna et al v Dole involving Nicaraguan farmers with similar claims.
Edelberg & Espina attorney Claire Espina told www.freshfruitportal.com the case was decided on a Statute of Limitations argument, which sets a maximum time after an event that legal proceedings can take place.
"It was originally filed in the Philippines in 1998 and the decision was ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in 1999, but it was appealed and the Appellate Court in the Philippines ruled that the defendants were not properly serviced in the Philippines," she said.
"In April 2009 the Supreme Court in the Philippines decided the defendants were not properly serviced in the Philippines because they were supposedly not present."
In layman's terms she said this meant Dole won that case on a technicality, and the same thing happened in the latest judgment.
"In terms of the 30-year claim, the chemical was introduced in the 1970s but science has shown that for each person it takes a different amount of time before the effects can be felt, sometimes it takes decades.
"It's superficial to say that because the chemical exposures happened in the 70s, the 80s or the mid-90s that the Statute of Limitations applies, as it's an issue of when effects were accrued that is important, and we never got the chance to ask that question of when the results were felt."
She said Johnson made her decision as the Philippine Supreme Court ruling showed there was not any special interest from that country, and therefore California's two-year Statute of Limitations period should apply.
"These people were essentially penalized for pursuing this matter in the Philippines, and are now being told that California is the appropriate forum as the defendants are residents of California, but these people are farmers, where do they go?
"For Dole this is a fantastic ruling and it's staggering in its scope, as you had a judge who refused to apply equitable tolling of the Statute of Limitations, which is a wonderful concept for appeal.
"This is heartbreaking for us - I'm a lawyer and I deal with these kinds legal issues every day, but we're talking about human beings and that's something completely different."