(CN) - E.I. du Pont De Nemours & Co. did not get a fair trial when it was sued by Costa Rican fern growers for crop damage allegedly caused by the company's fungicide, a Florida appeals court ruled.
The farmers claimed the chemical company's Benlate product damaged their leatherleaf fern crops, and they filed suit. Benlate became the world's leading fungicide after DuPont introduced it 1970.
Leatherleaf ferns are used by florists to enhance cut-flower arrangements.
The trial court ruled in favor of the growers, but DuPont argued on appeal that the 27 farmers' separate claims should not have been consolidated into one trial.
DuPont also claimed the plaintiffs should not have been allowed to present evidence of previous settlements involving Benlate.
Chief Judge Juan Ramirez for the third district appellate court agreed with DuPont and reversed the decision.
"We conclude that the operative facts of the individual plaintiffs were disparate and predominated over the common issues presented at trial," he wrote. "The consolidation resulted in prejudice to DuPont."
Ramirez added: "It is well-established that evidence demonstrating that a defendant settled other claims involving the same product deprives the defendant of a fair trial."
The appeals court also upheld the trial judge's decision to set aside verdicts for seven of the growers on statute of limitations grounds. The remaining 20 growers' cases have been remanded for separate trials.
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