Paraquat Claims Advance After Federal Judge’s Milestone Ruling

A closeup of a judge's gavel

If you represent a client who was harmed by the toxic herbicide paraquat, you should be aware that a bellwether trial is anticipated for this November.

Agricultural workers and farmers were handed a milestone victory in February when a federal judge ruled to consolidate claims by thousands who developed Parkinson’s Disease after exposure to paraquat. The first bellwether trial is expected to occur in November 2022. The mass tort multidistrict litigation (MDL) will be heard by Chief U.S. District Judge Nancy Rosenstengel of the southern Illinois district.

Defendants Syngenta and Chevron had asked for motions to dismiss tort claims for strict product liability, negligence, breach of an implied warranty, and violation of several states’ consumer protection laws. Judge Rosenstengel denied the motions, although she sided with the defendants on one issue by tossing a public-nuisance claim. Plaintiffs’ attorneys will argue for their clients’ personal injuries, but the nuisance claim was merely a rewording of the product liability claims, the judge decided.

Paraquat’s Dangerous History

Paraquat dichloride has been used commercially since the 1960s. The herbicide is used to control weeds and grass that choke out crops grown on commercial farms. It has gained popularity since weeds over time have become resistant to Bayer AG’s Roundup chemical. Currently, Syngenta markets paraquat under the brand name Gramoxone in the United States. Other brand names include Para-SHOT, Parazone, Quick-Quat, Firestorm, and Helmquat. Chevron marketed it prior to1986. However, paraquat has the potential to be deadly. Ingesting just a tiny bit of it can kill a person and no antidote exists.

Poisoning from paraquat occurs when it is inhaled or ingested, making it toxic to anyone who works with it. But if your client lives near a farm that uses paraquat to control weeds, they are also susceptible to illness. Paraquat is also toxic when someone touches sprayed plants or when mixing, loading, or applying it – whether sprayed in the field or dusted from a crop plane.

Plaintiffs Say, Defendants Say

The National Institute of Health (NIH) concluded that those exposed to paraquat were 250 percent more likely to develop Parkinson’s Disease than those who were not. Parkinson’s is a degenerative nervous system disorder that can cause tremors, loss of muscle control, and loss of balance. It currently has no cure.

Defendants argue that paraquat is legal for commercial use in the U.S. according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and several safeguards have been enacted to protect consumers from poisonings, such as adding a blue dye, pungent odor, and a chemical that induces a person to vomit if ingested.

The plaintiffs argue that paraquat has been banned in more than thirty countries, including China and the European Union. They argue that Syngenta and Chevron knew about the link between exposure to paraquat and the risk of Parkinson’s, but they failed to warn consumers.

Case Consolidation

Plaintiffs in fourteen paraquat cases in early 2021, unopposed by Syngenta and Chevron, sought consolidation before one federal judge for pretrial proceedings. By June 2021, when Judge Rosenstengel assumed the MDL action, 77 paraquat cases had been filed. To date, about 600 cases are involved in the paraquat MDL.

The case is styled as, In re Paraquat Products Liability Litigation, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Illinois, No. 21-md-03004.

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