International Personal Injury Lawsuit Against Major U.S. Defense Contractor Moves Forward

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 accordingly.

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.