Coca-Cola cleared in Columbia torture case

Judges on the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a Miami federal district court’s dismissal of four cases which alleged that Coca-Cola, and two Colombian bottling subsidiaries, were liable for the murder and torture of trade unionists by Colombian paramilitary forces.

According to The American Lawyer, the court ruled that the plaintiffs’ complaints lacked the factual evidence to justify a valid claim.

The plaintiffs alleged that two Coca-Cola bottlers, Panamco and Bebidas, collaborated with para­military forces in what the court called “the systematic intimidation, kidnapping, detention, torture, and murder of Colombian trade unionists”.

The complaints did not accuse Coca-Cola or its bottlers of direct responsibility for the crimes, but sought compensation under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victims Protection Act for the companies’ alleged aiding and abetting.

“These were heinous accusations,” said Faith Gay, of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges, who has represented Coca-Cola since the suits were first filed in 2001. “Coca-Cola was four levels removed from what was happening. We knew nothing about these events until we were sued. It was defamation through legal pleadings.”

Gay said the decision showed that under US tort law, plaintiffs “must, in order to state a claim, show links at every level”.


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