Du Pont settles lawsuits with farmers

April 23, 1994|By Bloomberg Business News

WILMINGTON, Del. -- Du Pont Co. said yesterday that it had agreed to settle 220 farmers' lawsuits involving the company's Benlate fungicide for a total of $214 million.

The growers, from Florida, Hawaii and Costa Rica, had alleged that their crops were damaged by use of Benlate 50 DF from 1987 to 1991, said the farmers' attorney Kevin Malone of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The growers were seeking a total of almost $1 billion for damage to their ornamental plants, tomatoes, watermelons and cucumbers, Du Pont spokeswoman Pat Getter said.

Wilmington, Del.-based Du Pont said the settlement means that more than half of the 560 lawsuits brought against it since 1991 have been concluded. About 70 other suits had previously been disposed of, mostly through settlements, the company said in its annual 10-K report.

About 268 lawsuits seeking hundreds of millions of dollars are still pending against the oil and chemical giant, Ms. Getter said. Most of the suits have been filed by growers from Florida, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, she said.

Du Pont said the costs of yesterday's settlement are fully covered by $476 million previously taken in charges against earnings. The charges, taken since early 1991, amount to 71 cents a share, Ms. Getter said.

DuPont, in signing the agreement yesterday, didn't admit any wrongdoing.

"DuPont remains convinced that Benlate is not responsible for ,, alleged crop damage, and DuPont will continue to prove this in ongoing matters," said John Schmutz, Du Pont senior vice president and special counsel.

"At the same time, the disheartening but pervasive economics are that, in most of these Benlate cases, litigation costs exceed settlement costs," he said.

Mr. Malone said the growers settled for about one-fifth the amount they initially sought because it "will allow my clients to avoid years of litigation with uncertain prospects for success."

He added that the growers, in settling, "were well aware" of a recent Florida jury's verdict that found Benlate free of defects.

Growers have won five of six jury trials in the last year for a total of $23 million, or an average of $4.3 million a case. Yesterday's settlement provides an average award of $1 million a case.

Du Pont shares fell 25 cents, to $54.625.

When Benlate was recalled from the market in 1991, the company paid farmers more than $400 million in claims before shutting down the settlement process in November 1992.

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