A Los Angeles judge could throw out two bellwether lawsuits accusing Dole Food Co. of exposing Nicaraguan banana plantation workers to pesticides that made them sterile over allegations that plaintiffs’ lawyers committed a massive fraud on the court.
At the conclusion of a three-day hearing that starts on Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Victoria Chaney is expected to determine whether the Nicaraguan and U. S. lawyers recruited people who had never worked on banana plantations to pose as sterile “bananeros” for the trials.
More than 40 related cases, involving thousands of plaintiffs from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Honduras and the Ivory Coast are pending in Chaney’s court.
A federal judge in Miami considering whether to enforce an $800 million judgment won by bananeros in a Nicaraguan court has suspended those proceedings pending the outcome of the California cases, a Dole attorney said.
In 2007, the banana workers won a $2.5 million judgment in the first of what Chaney considered to be three “bellwether cases” whose outcomes could facilitate settlement of the dozens of remaining cases, the judge wrote in the March 11 order.
After the first trial, Dole investigators found witnesses in Nicaragua who testified that many plaintiffs had never worked on banana farms and that the work certificates and lab reports supporting their claims were faked.
A fraud investigation ordered by the court revealed that the plaintiffs lawyers used scripts, videos and “field trips” to educate plaintiffs about life and work on banana farms, the order said.