contamination of their water and land
Indians Suits Against Texaco Reinstated
NEW YORK (Reuters, 6-Oct.-98)
- A federal appeals court has reinstated lawsuits filed
by rainforest Indians
of Ecuador and Peru against Texaco Inc., accusing the giant oil company
of widespread contamination of their water and land.
In the ruling made
public Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed
a lower court decision dismissing the lawsuits on jurisdictional grounds.
Texaco is headquartered in White Plains, N.Y., which is within the Second
The plaintiffs have
estimated that clean-up costs, compensation for devastation to the rainforest
and alleged increased cancer risks for thousands of people could exceed
The three-member appeals
court panel also reversed a ruling that barred the Republic of Ecuador
from joining in the litigation. Ecuador's move to participate in the cases
marked the first time a foreign government tried to sue a U.S. oil company
in an American court over alleged environmental destruction in its homeland,
according to plaintiffs' lawyers.
The ruling by the Second
Circuit sends the case back to the district court for reconsideration.
A Texaco spokeswoman
said the company had no comment yet on whether it would fight the ruling.
However, she pointed out that the appeals court dealt only with the question
of whether New York is the proper venue for litigation and did not address
the merits of the allegations in the case.
Joseph Kohn, one of
the lawyers representing the Indians, said the suits had been filed in
New York because Texaco no longer does business in Ecuador and cannot be
"We are very gratified
by the ruling," said Kohn, of Philadelphia. "Hopefully we will get back
on track to pursue the merits of our claims."
The ruling stems from
two suits filed in 1993 and 1994 by residents of the Oriente region of
Ecuador and residents of Peru who live downstream from Ecuador's Oriente
region. The plaintiffs alleged that a Texaco subsidiary dumped an estimated
30 billion gallons of toxic waste into their environment while extracting
oil from the Ecuadoran Amazon between 1964 and 1992.
The plaintiffs alleged
that instead of pumping the substances back into emptied wells, Texaco
dumped them in local rivers, directly into landfills or spread them on
the local dirt roads.
They also allege that
the Trans-Ecuadoran Pipeline, constructed by Texaco, leaked large amounts
of petroleum into the environment. The Indians alleged that they and their
families suffered various injuries, including poisoning and development
of pre-cancerous growths.
The litigation has
been complicated by the fact that, according to court papers, powers within
the Ecuador government were split over whether they should join the litigation
in U.S. courts.
to the United States had objected to the U.S. State Department, but the
Ecuador government later filed a motion in New York federal court seeking
to participate in the litigation.
A New York district
judge dismissed the suits in 1996 and 1997 on grounds that New York was
not the proper place for the litigation and that Ecuador would be a more
convenient location. He also denied Ecuador's motion to intervene.
However, the appeals
court reversed the lower court. It ruled, among other things, that for
the case to be dismissed in favor of a different venue, Texaco would have
to consent to being sued in Ecuadoran courts.
Texaco's stock ended
at $62.375, up 6 cents on the New York Stock Exchange.
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