Fraud by Trial Lawyers Taints Wave of Pesticide Lawsuits Involving Dole

After responding to a radio commercial seeking former banana-plantation workers for a lawsuit against Dole Food Co., Marcos Sergio Medrano thought he might be entitled to some money. He says an American law firm convinced him that a pesticide used on the Dole-operated banana plantation where he had worked years ago had made him sterile.

Lawyers for the 49-year-old peasant produced tests that purported to prove it. But DNA testing by Dole revealed that he had fathered three children — something Mr. Medrano says was news to him. “I don’t feel good about this,” he says now. “I feel I was involved in foul play.”

Mr. Medrano is part of the sorry fallout from a group of U.S. personal-injury and other lawyers who descended on this small, impoverished city, seeking to recruit thousands of clients and earn up to 40% of any awards. Emboldened by a developing-world legal system that heavily favored plaintiffs, they filed an avalanche of lawsuits here against California-based Dole and eventually won $2.1 billion in local judgments.

Now a California judge has ruled that plaintiffs and their lawyers deployed fraudulent tactics, which included faking sterility tests and using plaintiffs who never worked on banana plantations. As a result, actual workers who may have been hurt may receive nothing, even though Dole continued using a dangerous pesticide called DBCP after it had been linked definitively to male sterility.

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