By: Allan M. Siegel
During the 2000s, the United States Federal Government engaged in "Plan
Colombia," which involved hiring defense contractors to use airplanes
to spray toxic chemicals on fields in the South American country of Colombia.
The aim was to kill coca plants (which are used to produce the drug cocaine)
and poppy plants (used to produce opiates such as heroin). However, these
private defense contractors also directed their planes to illegally enter
the neighboring country of Ecuador. Allegedly, the aerial fumigation destroyed
many farms, and the toxic chemicals physically harmed the farmers.
This action led the non-profit International Rights Advocates to file a
lawsuit back in 2001, in the United States District Court for the District
of Columbia, against U.S. defense contractor DynCorp International. (Although
the spraying occurred far south in Ecuador, DynCorp could be sued in D.C.
because DynCorp is based there.) IRA filed the lawsuit on behalf of more
than 2,000 Ecuadoran farmers, alleging personal injuries and property damage.
DynCorp asked the trial court several times to dismiss the case, and appealed
to a higher court, but to no avail. Because there were so many plaintiffs,
the Court held a "bellwether trial" that only involved six farmers.
A bellwether trial is used sometimes in complex cases involving numerous
plaintiffs, since it may resolve and simplify issues for the remaining
plaintiffs.) This limited trial began on April 3, 2017, and finished 17
days later when the jury reached a verdict. The jury held that DynCorp
legally controlled, and was responsible for, the pilots who sprayed fields
in Ecuador after April 2003. As a result of this bellwether trial, for
the many remaining plaintiffs, DynCorp cannot avoid responsibility for
damages caused after April 2003, and will have to compensate the farmers
The DynCorp case is a good example of how
personal injury lawsuits in the civil justice system -- which enables one private party
to sue another -- can enforce law and justice even across international
boundaries and against powerful wrongdoers. If you know anyone who has
been wrongfully injured due to someone's negligence -- whether that
is a person, a corporation, or a government -- then you should
contact the personal injury attorneys at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel,
P.C., for a free consultation.