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Productura de Semillias and Palmas y Bambu are both ornamental plant growers in Costa Rica and, for years, each used the fungicide Benlate WP on their crops without a problem. In 1990, however, both companies switched to Benlate DF, a granular powder that is mixed with water before spraying. Over the next two years, the new form of Benlate “caused devastating damage” to their plants, said attorney Janet L. Humphreys of Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton in Miami. “Benlate caused their plants to yellow, to not grow roots, to become deformed, to die.” As a result, both growers lost hundreds of thousands of plants — and millions of dollars in profits, she said. Both stopped using Benlate DF in early 1992. Productura even “brought in all new soil and now only grows crops in pots,” Humphreys said. In 1997, the companies sued Benlate manufacturer E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., alleging products liability, fraud and violation of Florida’s civil racketeering act, which provides civil remedies for criminal practices. “[DuPont] marketed a product they knew to be defective and covered up and concealed its defectiveness from the public and their customers,” said Humphreys. DuPont denied that the product was defective, that it had injured the plaintiffs’ crops or that by defending Benlate it was committing an illegal act. DuPont also challenged the damage claims, contending that the plaintiffs’ past profits averaged about $10,000 a year. On Aug. 10, a Miami jury, finding that Benlate was defective and that DuPont had not only committed fraud but also violated the civil RICO statute, awarded $14 million to Palmas and $15.5 million to Productura. The award was automatically trebled under Florida’s RICO statute. In a prepared statement, DuPont, which plans to appeal, said, “The conclusion that it is a crime for a company to defend its product, particularly based on a smear campaign and pseudo-science … is an absurdity.” The plaintiffs’ attorneys were Janet L. Humphreys, Adam M. Moskowitz and Detra P. Shaw of Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton in Miami. The defense attorneys were John Boudet of Greenberg Traurig, Orlando, Fla.; and David Banker of the Tampa, Fla., office of Kansas City, Mo.’s Shook, Hardy & Bacon.

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