Third District Court of Appeal ()
A state appellate court on Wednesday reversed a $1.4 million award and sanctions against DuPont & Co. in litigation brought by a South Miami orchid grower over the chemical maker’s recalled Benlate fungicide.
In a 65-page ruling, the Third District Court of Appeal in Miami reversed a decision by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Amy Steele Donner to strike DuPont’s pleadings and enter a default judgment against it for committing a “fraud on the court.”
Steele also ordered DuPont to pay $1.4 million in compensatory, punitive and prejudgment interest after finding the company hid key documents until shortly before the 2011 retrial. The lawsuit was filed in 1992.
A call to Delaware-based DuPont for comment was not returned by deadline.
Neither was a call to attorney Robert Ratiner, who represented microbiologist Claire Sidran and her husband, Philip.
The Sidrans claimed Benlate damaged their prize-winning orchids from 1988 to 1991 and drove their company out of business.
Growers from Florida to Hawaii and Latin America blamed Benlate 50 DF for crop losses. The pesticide was recalled starting in 1989 and pulled from the market worldwide in 2001. DuPont initially paid many claims but later rejected hundreds of others and never acknowledged any wrongdoing.
The fungicide was blamed for numerous birth defects around the world as well. In one of the more famous Benlate cases, a Miami jury awarded $4 million to a child born without eyes and whose mother was exposed in pregnancy to Benlate.
The Third DCA in 2003 ordered a third trial in the Sidran case, ruling the company should not have been able to tell jurors that the Sidrans’ well water was polluted with dry-cleaning solvents. The new jury awarded $1.4 million.
Sidran also sought sanctions against the company for hiding, among other things, 80 pages of documents that showed DuPont knew as early as 1967 that the pesticide was defective.
Ratiner, a partner at Ratiner Trial Law said at the time that he wanted the company to be criminally prosecuted. He said DuPont waited until weeks before the latest trial to place the reports in an electronic document depository created by DuPont for Benlate litigation.
Attorneys for DuPont said the discovery delay was unintentional, and the appellate court agreed.
“The record does not support the finding that DuPont made the misrepresentation on which the trial court based its ruling,” Judge Linda Ann Wells wrote in the opinion.
She said the record didn’t demonstrate any willful intent by DuPont to mislead the trial court or opposing counsel. A review of the evidence showed DuPont never represented to Sidrans that its document depository were complete and could be relied upon as such.
In an unusual move, the panel remanded the case for “an expedited trial on the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims with no further amendments and no additional discovery to be permitted.”
Wells was joined by Judges Richard Suarez and Edwin A. Scales in the opinion.