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  • Jim Ferraro

Showing the Jury the Results of the Fungicide Exposure

In my last post, I recounted in detail my opening remarks to the court in the Castillo-DuPont case.

I told jury about the day Donna Castillo came into contact with Benlate, describing Pine Island Farms in as much detail as possible to help give them a visual picture of the field to accompany the blown-up photographs of the area I used as evidence.

I showed the jury a photograph of the tractor that had gotten stuck in the mud on the day that Donna was exposed. Weather records indicated that the wind was blowing out of the southeast. It had been a strong wind, between 12 and 14 miles per hour, with gusts of up to 20 mph.

As Donna described it, the spray that drenched her was a foggy type of mist. It was odorless and had no smell or color, and was whitish on the skin. As anyone would have, she didn’t think much of it at the time, though she told her husband what happened when she got home because she was soaked to the bone. It wasn’t until the following June when their son was born with severe microphthalmia that they realized something had gone terribly wrong.

“This is Johnny at two months,” I said as I pointed to the 4-foot-tall close-up photograph of their baby.

The family had been shocked by what happened to Johnny, because there were no risk factors in their family history, and their daughter, Adrianna, who was sitting in the courtroom that morning next to Donna, had been born with two perfect, beautiful, healthy eyes.

I shared the story of John Ashton’s investigative report with the jury, and of the Scottish families whose children had been affected by exposure to Benlate, as well as the documented conversations Ashton and I had both had with Lynn Chaffin, which showed the farm used Benlate in November of 1989.

I needed the jury to understand that this was going to be a complex case but that I would do my very best to help them understand and break down all of the evidence into bite-sized nuggets they could digest, especially when it came time to hear all the scientific witnesses.

Above all, I needed them to see the Castillos as strong people who were making the very best of a very bad situation. They had moved from Miami to Palm Beach because John needed to be in a special school. As a result, they each had to change jobs.

Johnny required constant attention. He didn’t sleep like a normal person. He could go through periods when he might sleep from midnight to 2:00 a.m., or from 4:00 to 5:00 in the afternoon. Sometimes he was up all night, but it was all part of the Castillos’ routine.

“At the end of the day, this is the story of a little boy who will never see his mom or dad,” I said. “He will never see his sister, Adrianna, and he will never get better. His eyes will never grow in; he has no chance to have his eyesight.”

When I finished, I turned back to the jury and reminded them that it was their job and their duty to hear the evidence in this case and apply it to the law, and I told them I would be asking for a verdict after the close of the evidence for the plaintiffs.

“It will be in the millions of dollars,” I said, knowing, hoping, and, yes, even praying they wouldn’t see it any other way.

Next up was Greg Gaebe, on behalf of Pine Island Farms. In my next post, I recount his opening.

You can find more details about the case, and how it played out, in my book, Blindsided, from which this blog post is adapted.


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