Law360, Washington (April 10, 2017, 5:28 PM EDT) -- Defense contractor DynCorp and plaintiffs suing it for allegedly poisoning farmers in Ecuador with herbicide while trying to eradicate drug crops in Colombia sparred in midtrial briefs filed in Washington, D.C., federal court Sunday over whether the company could be held liable for actions of pilots employed by subcontractors and Colombian police.
DynCorp argued that neither contractor EAST Inc. nor the National Police of Colombia, which provided pilots for planes that sprayed RoundUp onto crops, fell under a legal “master-servant” relationship, and therefore any tortious actions by those entities could not be held against DynCorp. But plaintiffs representing a 2,000-person class allegedly harmed by the chemicals said they offered plenty of evidence to the contrary for that question to be decided by the jury.
“Applying the joint employer doctrine in this case, there is no question, based on the evidence that has been and will be presented to the jury, that a reasonable jury could find that DynCorp was a joint employer of all of the spray pilots," the plaintiffs' motion said. "By its contracts with the State Department and EAST, DynCorp retained control or the right of control of all aspects of Plan Colombia.”
Plan Colombia, a broad joint effort by the U.S. and Colombia started in 1999 to combat drug trafficking and organized crime, included efforts to poison swaths of drug-producing farms through aerially delivered herbicides. DynCorp, EAST and the Colombian National Police fumigated tens of thousands of hectares of farmland each year, some of it bordering or in Ecuadorean territory. In 2001, the first of multiple lawsuits was filed against DynCorp for poisoning people and water in Ecuador, and after a series of consolidations and partial dismissal of some claims, a trial started April 3.
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