On Thursday, April 20, 2017 a federal jury returned a verdict in the first of the test trials against DynCorp International, the defense contractor that did the aerial fumigations in Plan Colombia. The International Rights Advocates (IRAdvocates) first filed this case in 2001 on behalf of over 2,000 Ecuadoran farmers who live near the border with Colombia and allege that they had their farms destroyed when the toxic chemicals used by DynCorp to kill coca and poppy plants was also sprayed on their farms. The Ecuadoran farmers also alleged that they received personal injuries and suffered battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. After many delays and a lengthy appeal process, the case was finally set for trial on behalf of six (6) test plaintiffs. Theodore Leopold, Leslie M. Kroeger and Poorad Razavi from Cohen Milstein joined the case in late 2016 to prepare the case for the April 3, 2017 trial.
The issues of battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress proceeded to trial. DynCorp’s major defense was that they were not responsible for any of the damages to the Ecuadoran farmers because they were not flying the spray missions themselves. They asserted the missions were flown by two groups of pilots, one from EAST, a U.S. subcontractor, and the other from the Colombian National Police (CNP). DynCorp argued the pilots were not under their control and they could not be held liable if the pilots wrongfully fumigated the Ecuadoran farmers. The jury concluded that DynCorp was responsible for the EAST pilots, but that the CNP pilots were independent contractors and not under the control of DynCorp. The jury also found that in April, 2003, EAST took over control of the CNP pilots, making DynCorp liable for all spray pilots fumigating after that date. Unfortunately, all of the first six test Plaintiffs had claims that pre-dated April, 2003, so they could not determine whether DynCorp or the CNP was responsible for spraying them. The jury was accordingly unable to award damages to these Plaintiffs because they could not prove which group of pilots sprayed them.
Moving forward, DynCorp will be estopped from arguing they are not responsible for any harm caused by the spray pilots post-April, 2003. We look forward to the future trials for the remaining 2,000 Ecuadoran farmers that will focus on damages and the reckless actions of the DynCorp pilots.
Terry Collingsworth, Executive Director of the IR Advocates stated, “we have been fighting for justice for the 2,000 Ecuadoran farmers for over 16 years, and we will continue the fight until we achieve justice.”
Contact: Desmond Lee or Denise Luu at email@example.com.