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Chiquita’s $38.3 Million Verdict Jolts Human Rights Litigation

Bloomberg Law

June 12, 2024

  • First-of-its kind verdict followed two decades of litigation
  • Victim families relied on ancient English theory to bring case

A landmark $38.3 million jury verdict against Chiquita—the first in an American court to hold a US corporation liable over international human rights violations—raises the specter of billions of dollars in liability for the company and a broader warning for global business titans, attorneys for the plaintiffs say.

“It shows US courts remain open to vindicating human rights,” said Agnieszka Fryszman, a partner at Cohen Milstein and one of the lawyers for the winning Colombian plaintiffs. “There is no law-free zone you can take advantage of.”

A West Palm Beach, Fla., jury on Monday found Chiquita responsible for the deaths of eight Colombians murdered by Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia more than two decades ago. Chiquita paid the paramilitary organization—designated a terrorist organization by US officials—more than $1.7 million during a time when the group murdered thousands of locals around one of Chiquita’s most profitable operations.

Attorneys involved with the litigation portrayed the verdict as both a unique landmark in international litigation as well as a momentum-shift in the massive multidistrict litigation against the agriculture firm. It’s the only case of its kind against a US company to get a winning verdict for plaintiffs, and this first bellwether trial involved just nine of the roughly 4,500 plaintiffs suing the company.

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Despite hurdles, such as needing to file dozens of expert reports on various facets of Colombian law, the general principles of negligence and hazardous activity are universal, she said, and that’s why children and spouses of people killed in Colombia were awarded up to $2.7 million for their loss.

“People and corporations that operate in places with less rule of law and access to courts and history of corruption will look to this verdict and see you’ll be held accountable in American court,” Fryszman said. “You can’t simply roll the dice and hope you’ll not get caught.”

Read Chiquita’s $38.3 Million Verdict Jolts Human Rights Litigation.