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NEWS OF THE WEEK
BUSINESS
August 20, 2001
Volume 79, Number 34
CENEAR 79 34 p. 14
ISSN 0009-2347
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BENLATE BITES DUPONT AGAIN
Jury convicts DuPont of hiding evidence; orders $78 million payment

MARC REISCH

Dupont said in April that it would stop selling its 30-year-old Benlate-brand benomyl fungicide by the end of this year because of high litigation costs, but its troubles are far from over. A Miami jury has ordered DuPont to pay $78 million to two Costa Rican plant nurseries for damages they allege were caused by Benlate.

"This verdict was the result of a seriously flawed proceeding," a DuPont spokesman says, because jurors were not allowed to hear all of the relevant facts.

He adds that allegations presented during the trial that DuPont had concealed evidence showing Benlate could damage plants was false. "We didn't destroy any evidence, and we didn't hide anything," he says. "We look forward to a higher court's review."

The verdict was issued under Florida's Civil Remedies for Criminal Practices Act, which is modeled after the federal Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organizations Act. The act allows plaintiffs to recover triple damages.

The Dade County Circuit Court jury found DuPont liable for racketeering, fraud, and negligence. It awarded Palmas y Bambu $15 million and Productura de Semillas $14 million. After discounting the award by 10% for the growers' portion of fault and then tripling the award, the court ordered DuPont to pay $78 million.

DuPont's problems date to 1991 when a contaminated Benlate batch first caused plant damage. DuPont initially paid out $500 million to cover growers' losses. But as claims mounted, the company did its own tests, which it maintains showed Benlate had not caused damages that growers continued to claim.

Nonetheless, the company has paid out $1.3 billion in legal costs and settlements since 1991, and it has about 120 claims pending. Benlate sales last year were $90 million.

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