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Pickers settle suit over son's defect

MIAMI — Ag-Mart Produce Inc. has settled a lawsuit with a farm worker couple whose baby was born without limbs after the mother worked in the company's tomato fields during her pregnancy, the couple's lawyer said Monday.

Attorney Andy Yaffa said the two sides reached a confidential agreement Friday night that will take care of his clients' son Carlos, now 4. The deal must still be approved by a Tampa judge.

Harry Costello, an outside spokesman who represents Ag-Mart, said the company had not decided whether to comment on the agreement.

Francisca Herrera and Abraham Candelario allege they worked for Plant City's Ag-Mart in 2004 before and after their son Carlos was born. They and other workers testified the company sprayed pesticides while they were working in the fields.

The couple also said that on other occasions the managers did not wait sufficient time after spraying before sending workers back into the fields.

Herrera and Candelario came from Mexico to work at Ag-Mart fields in both Florida and North Carolina. Herrera testified in a deposition she was sprayed two to three times a week with pesticides that turned her clothes green and caused her headaches, sore throats and rashes.

She said managers laughed when the workers complained about the pesticides and that she was told she couldn't live in Ag-Mart housing if she didn't keep working, according to a recent court motion.

Ag-Mart, which grows both UglyRipe heirloom tomatoes and Santa Sweets grape tomatoes, is a subsidiary of Philadelphia-based Procacci Bros.

In his deposition, Ag-Mart President Donald Long told Yaffa he knew the company used pesticides that had been shown to cause birth defects on animals during clinical trials, but he did not know whether Herrera and other pregnant workers were directly exposed to the pesticides, including methyl bromide.

Since 2005, Ag-Mart has stopped using several of the pesticides alleged to have caused Carlos' condition.

Pickers settle suit over son's defect 03/24/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 1:09pm]
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