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DuPont Finally Pays Family for Chemical-Related Birth Defects

Jul 18, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

After a protracted, 12-year legal battle, two families have finally won confidential payouts from DuPont.  The plaintiffs blame the fungicide, Benlate, developed by DuPont for their children's serious birth defects and deaths.

Mark Ison’s son, Blake, was born without eyes and with a double cleft palate.  Karen, Blake's mother, was exposed to Benlate while working as a parks worker before Blake’s birth in 1993.  Ison said he was relieved the ordeal was over, but is angry that DuPont continued to deny Benlate caused any health problems.  Two other children born to parks staff about the same time as Blake reportedly suffered from birth defects.  Ison said he was unable to discuss details of the lawsuit because of a "media freeze" mandated by the American lawyers, but denied reports that the final payout, made this year, was “lavish,” saying "It will give Blake a buffer, but that's it.  It was to shut us up and they got away with the minimum amount possible."

Ison said he and his wife were naive when they set out to battle a huge multinational corporation.  "We thought once the company could see our children had been damaged they would take it off the market immediately, but it was only when the cost of litigation became bigger than profit margins that they did something."

In 1997, the Isons and Andrea Reilly filed a lawsuit against DuPont along with four British families who also had children born with eye abnormalities.  Ms. Reilly's son, Jesse Hanham, died in 1998 when he was seven years old.  That case went to the US Supreme Court three times before DuPont announced a tentative settlement of $9 million last May for the six original plaintiffs and another 26 families who claimed Benlate caused defects in their children.

Ison said he and the other families who took the case succeeded in their main goal:  To have Benlate pulled off the market.  "We think our action played an important part in that .... We didn't want anyone else to go through what we had."

DuPont began manufacturing Benlate in the 1950s, but stopped its production in 2001 after crop damage claims.  DuPont has paid over NZ$3 billion (approximately $2.3 billion US dollars) in litigation costs so far; cases were filed in the US; however, plaintiffs are from New Zealand and England.

Benlate, was first synthesized in 1959, was introduced in 1970, and was long considered one of DuPont’s most successful fungicides; Benlate’s active ingredient is benomyl.  In 1987 DuPont introduced dry-flowable Benlate 50 DF that was recalled in 1989 and 1991 due to the presence of the herbicide atrazine in some lots.  The recalls generated hundreds of claims and growers began blaming Benlate 50 DF for a wide range of plant problems.  In June 2000, DuPont was ordered to pay over US$100 million to two Texas fruit companies for damage to their orchards due to Benlate dust; in December and February 2000, DuPont lost two separate lawsuits to Ecuadorian shrimp farmers and was ordered to pay US$10.2 million and $12.3 million respectively.  DuPont stopped selling Benlate worldwide in 2001.


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