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DuPont Add $214 Million

DuPont has agreed to pay $214 million to 220 farmers who said their crops had been ruined by a fungicide from the company.

The settlement, announced on Friday, eliminates nearly half the suits against DuPont in connection with the fungicide, Benlate® DF, which was recalled in 1991. Since that year, when the crop damage was first reported, DuPont paid more than $500 million to farmers.

DuPont said that it accepted no liability in the settlements and that Benlate® was safe. The company, headquartered in Wilmington, Del., said it was cheaper to settle the cases than contest them in trials.

"Winning jury trials does not always justify the economic costs required to uphold the integrity of our product," said a senior vice president and special counsel, John F. Schmutz.

In addition to the suits settled on Friday, 70 others have been settled, dismissed by judges or reached trial.

The settlement was announced on Friday, four days after Florida officials said that they had proved that Benlate® was contaminated with a potent weed killer.

Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford, who faulted Benlate® for $1 billion in crop losses in Florida, said on Friday: "This settlement will help a substantial number of growers to put their farming operations back in order. This is a responsible step. I urge DuPont to settle the remaining claim and close the chapter on Benlate®."

Dispute Over Damage

DuPont paid at least $510 million in damage claims to growers—$400 million of that total in Florida—after a recall in 1991. The company then announced In November 1992 that it was stopping all payments and that its research had proved that Benlate® had not caused damages reported by 2,100 growers in 40 states.

That announcement prompted a flurry of suits against the company.

Mr. Crawford announced on Monday that his scientists had proved that Benlate® was contaminated with a class of weedkillers, sulfonylureas, that kills plants in extremely low doses.

DuPont, the leading manufacturer of the weed killers, denied the state's contention that the fungicide was contaminated and said Mr. Crawford's announcement had nothing to do with the settlement, which it said had been negotiated over months.

Farmers welcomed the announcement. "I'm terribly relieved," said Carol Murphy, a fern grower in DeLand who was among those who settled. "It's been a long road, and I'm just happy it's all over. I can get on with life."

The 220 growers involved are represented by Kevin Malone, a lawyer from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who won in two jury trials against DuPont last year. Mr. Malone said 110 growers were from Florida, 25 from the Caribbean or Costa Rica and the rest from Hawaii.

Victory in Blueberry Case

In the last year four juries in Florida and one in Arkansas have found Benlate® responsible for crop losses, but the awards were generally smaller than the amounts that the farmers sought. The largest award was in Arkansas, where 30 vegetable farmers were awarded $10.65 million, of which $3 million was for punitive damages.

The lone court victory for DuPont was in February, when a jury in Florida found the company not liable for $5.5 million in damages sought by a group of blueberry farmers in Lakeland.

The total of $476 million in after tax costs beyond DuPont's Insurance coverage makes the Benlate® case the most expensive pesticide recall. Mr. Schmutz, the DuPont lawyer, said "This is a sad commentary that once again illustrates just how badly this country's tort law system is out of control."

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