Parties reach settlement in DuPont fungicide case


Published: Saturday, January 11, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 10, 2003 at 11:09 p.m.
Without a word of testimony offered or one witness taking the stand, an Alachua County couple and the DuPont Co. settled a multimillion dollar lawsuit involving the fungicide Benlate Friday.
Both sides confirmed a settlement had been reached in the 1998 Gainesville case, which was in its second day of trial, but would say nothing about its terms.
David King, an Orlando attorney representing Micanopy residents Jeffrey and Susan Wagner, said, "Unfortunately it's a confidential settlement."
He did say that the Wagners were "very pleased to have this thing resolved."
The owners of a plant nursery in the Jonesville area, the Wagners had alleged DuPont offered money to their attorneys when the couple sued the second-biggest U.S. chemicals maker over Benlate damage to their plants. After their attorneys entered into a secret agreement with DuPont, the pair claimed they were fraudulently persuaded to settle their case in 1996.
Mary Armetta, one of the jurors on the case, said she was happy to hear she wouldn't be in court for the next several weeks.
"I'm sure my supervisor's very happy, too," she said. However, she said she would have liked to learn what really happened in the case and what the Wagners settled for.
It was too early in the trial, Armetta said, for her to draw any conclusions about a verdict. After three days of jury selection, jurors only heard about a half a day's worth of opening arguments before a settlement was announced. The lawsuit had pitted the Wagners against the Delaware-based company and attorneys who had represented them in previous litigation against DuPont.
Those lawyers, members of the disbanded Miami law firm Friedman, Rodriguez, Ferraro and St. Louis, had been dismissed from the case before the trial started. Eighteen other lawsuits involving similar cases against the lawyers and DuPont also ended in settlements between the plaintiffs and the company in the days just before the beginning of the Gainesville trial.
In opening statements, an attorney for DuPont painted the Wagners as greedy people who were working the legal system for more money. The couple had previously settled with the company for about $3 million and signed a contract releasing the company from additional claims.
But King told jurors DuPont forced the Wagners' ex-attorneys to abandon them by offering the Miami lawyers $6.4 million. The company then settled with the Wagners and others claimants for $59 million. But, he said, the lawyers received the same amount of money - $20 million counting cash from the deal with the company and their share of the settlement - as they would have earned had DuPont paid the $90 million to $100 million originally sought.

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