Toxic pesticides - "Unavoidably Unsafe" says court.



SPOKANE -- A California chemical company and its insurance carrier will pay about $750,000 to three agricultural workers sprayed with a toxic pesticide near Mattawa, a Spokane newspaper reports.

The settlement was reached shortly before the workers' lawsuit was set to go to trial in U.S. District Court here in March. It was not disclosed until last week, when payment was made to attorneys representing Ricardo Ruiz-Guzman, Martin Martinex and Miguel Farias.

The out-of-court settlement was reached after two days of mediation presided over by U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno. The parties agreed to keep the exact settlement out of the public record, but those familiar with the case said it was approximately $750,000, The Spokesman-Review reported Friday.

The workers said they suffered permanent health damage after being splashed with a concentrated pesticide while working in an apple orchard near Mattawa in 1993.

The lawsuit was filed against Amvac Chemical Corp. of Newport Beach, Calif., which manufactures the pesticide Phosdrin for use controlling aphids in apple orchards.

The pesticide, which is absorbed quickly through the skin, can cause blurred vision, confusion, breathing difficulties, heart irregularities, twitching, exhaustion, vomiting, diarrhea and unconsciousness.

Spokane attorneys Marcia Meade and Richard Eymann, who represented the plaintiffs, said the lawsuit exposed "outrageous conduct" by Amvac Chemical, which started using Phosdrin in Washington in 1993 while California was preparing to ban its use.

Amvac has withdrawn the chemical from domestic markets, but it is still used in other countries.

After the lawsuit was filed, U.S. District Judge Frem Nielsen made rulings favoring the chemical company. Those findings were appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The plaintiffs contended that the pesticide "was not reasonably safe as designed," and the state Supreme Court agreed.

But the state court also said that some products, including pesticides and medicines, can be "unavoidably unsafe," leaving their manufacturers free from liability.

After those rulings, Nielsen ordered the parties to mediation.

1998-2002 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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