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Lifelong care for limbless boy, 3, approved

Abraham Candelario, 23, comforts his son Carlos Herrera Candelario, 3, during a court hearing Wednesday in Tampa, where a confidential settlement was approved by a circuit judge.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

Abraham Candelario, 23, comforts his son Carlos Herrera Candelario, 3, during a court hearing Wednesday in Tampa, where a confidential settlement was approved by a circuit judge.

TAMPA — A Plant City produce company will pay for the lifelong care of 3-year-old Carlos Herrera Candelario, born with no arms or legs to migrant workers who picked tomatoes in fields sprayed with dangerous pesticides.

The child napped on his mother's chest Wednesday as Hillsborough Circuit Judge Charlene Honeywell approved a confidential settlement reached last month by attorneys for the family and Ag-Mart Produce.

Andrew Yaffa, one of Carlos' attorneys, said the amount is "very significant."

"Every need, want and desire that this child will need over the course of his life will be taken care of," said Yaffa of Fort Lauderdale.

Ag-Mart, which grows UglyRipe heirloom tomatoes and Santa Sweets grape tomatoes, did not admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

After revelations about Carlos and two other severely disfigured babies born to tomato pickers in South Florida, Ag-Mart stopped using pesticides that had been linked to birth defects.

Florida and North Carolina hit the company with hundreds of citations for pesticide misuse, though administrative judges in both states recommended dismissing the bulk of the charges for a lack of evidence.

Carlos' parents came from Guerrero, Mexico, to work at Ag-Mart fields in Immokalee and North Carolina. His mother, Francisca Herrera, 22, picked tomatoes before and during her pregnancy and washed her husband's clothes.

Carlos, their first child, was born Dec. 17, 2004. In addition to his missing limbs, he had spinal and lung abnormalities.

Herrera and Carlos' father, 23-year-old Abraham Candelario, said Ag-Mart's chemicals caused their son's deformities. They sued in Hillsborough County because the company is based here.

According to the Palm Beach Post, Herrera said in depositions that pesticides were sprayed on repeated occasions in adjacent Ag-Mart fields and drifted to where she worked. Forced to work in freshly sprayed fields, she had suffered a sore throat, burning eyes and headaches.

Two government investigations found no link between pesticides and birth defects. Attorneys for the family questioned the studies' findings and had experts ready to testify otherwise.

Honeywell sealed the financial settlement after attorneys on both sides said Carlos and his parents would be at risk if their neighbors knew the details.

"It's not the nicest community where they live," said Ag-Mart attorney Keith Wickenden, who had no further comment after the hearing.

The money, which will be placed in trusts, will enable Carlos' parents to buy him a home and a wheelchair — things they couldn't afford before, Herrera said in Spanish. The child has full mental capabilities, attends preschool and "lights up a room," Yaffa said.

Yaffa said he thinks there are other migrant workers with children hurt by pesticides who are scared to come forward because of their immigration status. He stopped short of saying more lawsuits will be filed.

Carlos and his parents helped them all, he said.

"This child," he said, "represents change."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Lifelong care for limbless boy, 3, approved 04/16/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 18, 2008 3:13pm]
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