March 23, 2009

Banana Litigation Losing Its Appeal?

Sorry about the bad pun. I just couldn't help myself.

This post relates to Tellez v. Dole, a case we blogged about last year. In Tellez, Nicaraguan banana workers sued Dole Food Company in California state court, seeking punitive damages because they allegedly became sterile when they were exposed to the agricultural chemical DBCP on Nicaraguan banana farms nearly 30 years ago. A jury awarded nearly $6 million to the plaintiffs, including $2.5 million in punitive damages. L.A. Superior Court judge Victoria Chaney vacated the punitive damages award and the Dole appealed from the remainder of the award. (See the court of appeal's on-line docket here.)

The National Law Journal is now reporting that Judge Chaney is threatening to dismiss other similar cases brought by the same plaintiffs' lawyers, amid allegations of fraud by the plaintiffs and their counsel. Judge Chaney's order refers to evidence that some plaintiffs never even worked on a banana farm, employment documents that were falsified, and a Nicaraguan radio broadcast on which the lead plaintiffs' lawyer told listeners not to cooperate in the case.

This isn't the first time that banana litigation has backfired for plaintiffs' lawyers here in L.A. As readers of this blog will recall, prominent L.A. trial lawyers Tommy Girardi and Walter Lack got themselves into hot water for their ethical lapses in related litigation, resulting in the Ninth Circuit's appointment of a special prosecutor to pursue disciplinary action against them.