A California trial court has reportedly begun hearing evidence to determine if a 2007 $2.3 million jury award to Nicaraguan banana plantation workers who claimed they were sterilized by exposure to pesticides was based on fraud. Defendant Dole Food Co. convinced the court in 2009 to dismiss two similar pending cases on the basis of testimony, by witnesses whose identities were kept secret due to purported threats of violence in Nicaragua, that the plaintiffs’ lawyers recruited bogus plaintiffs, coached them and used spurious lab tests to support their claims of sterility. An appeals court ordered the plaintiffs who had won awards in the earlier case to prove that their allegations were not fraudulent.

According to a news source, Dole presented evidence showing that the plaintiffs could not recall details about plantations where they had purportedly been employed, could not answer questions about the chemical’s smell or were apparently sterile before they began to work on a banana farm. The plaintiffs are reportedly represented by a new lawyer who has claimed that Dole obtained testimony about an alleged fraud by giving witnesses cash and treating them lavishly; the company contends that the expenses were approved by the court and agreed to by plaintiffs’ former lawyers. Their current lawyer also argued that Dole had all of the evidence about the alleged fraud before trial. The court will continue hearing evidence in June 2010. See The Los Angeles Times, May 12, 2010.

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