Paraquat is a poisonous chemical commonly sprayed for agricultural purposes to kill weeds and grass since the 1960s. It is also used for defoliation and desiccation. The chemical was introduced by Chevron in the US in 1964 and is currently manufactured by Syngenta. Paraquat chemical has been banned in the EU and is now used by licensed farmers in the US.
Studies have been carried out for decades regarding the safety of Paraquat. Still, much controversy remains due to mixed findings on product safety. Some evidence has emerged that prolonged exposure to Paraquat increases the risk of early onset of Parkinson’s disease. According to these studies, agricultural workers exposed to Paraquat for a long and those living near farms using the chemical are more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.
Following these discoveries, numerous product liability lawsuits are filed daily against Syngenta and its distributors. Most plaintiffs are farm workers with Parkinson’s disease and a paraquat exposure history. Some evidence suggests that the manufacturer was aware of the possible link between chemical exposure and Parkinson’s but masked it.
Due to the high number of paraquat cases, the lawsuits have been consolidated in a paraquat MDL (Paraquat Prod. Liab. Lit., MDL 3004), in Illinois, under Judge Nancy Rosenstengel. The lawsuits are still in the early stages of fact discovery, and new cases are being added to the MDL. The consolidated fact discovery process focuses on scientific evidence for the defendant and plaintiffs.
In December 2021, Judge Rosenstengel ordered all new paraquat plaintiffs to complete a plaintiff’s assessment questionnaire (PAQ). This questionnaire is like a preliminary discovery request. It requires paraquat plaintiffs to provide certain documents and information regarding their work, medical history and alleged exposure to Paraquat. Paraquat lawsuit attorneys at Stephens & Stephens can help get you the compensation you deserve for Paraquat exposure.
Paraquat lawsuit Case management order
In December 2021, the paraquat MDL judge issued a case management order (CMO) with key protocols and procedures for selecting the first pool of potential bellwether trial cases. The trial pool was composed of 16 cases with specific eligibility criteria. Eight of these cases were picked by the defense side and eight by the plaintiff’s attorneys.
The judge gave the lawyers a fact discovery deadline of March 31, 2022. Each party would then pick two lawsuits based on the fact discovery, while the remaining lawsuits would go into expert discovery. Expert discovery would involve testimony by an expert doctor on whether the Parkinson’s condition occurred from paraquat exposure. The four cases will be tried in the first round in November 2022. The remaining twelve cases were to be scheduled for the opening round of the bellwether trials scheduled for March 2023. These dates were changed to allow for more discovery time, and a new CMO No.15 was issued, scheduling the bellwether trials to begin in July 2023. The dates were then pushed back to October 2023.
The results of the bellwether trials help in negotiations for global settlements. And if the defendant is found liable, the company may be forced to part with substantial global compensation for the remaining claims.
Progress of the Paraquat lawsuit
Towards the end of 2021, Syngenta and Chevron confidentially settled a paraquat lawsuit (in Hoffmann v. Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC.) involving about 12 plaintiffs with Parkinson’s disease. The settlement in these lawsuits is believed to be huge as the companies seek to keep paraquat testimonies confidential. Consequently, the defendants withheld some deposition transcripts in MDL, which the plaintiff’s lawyers seek to obtain via court order.
The defendants filed a motion in January 2022 to dismiss some cases they believed were time-barred under the statute limitations. The plaintiff’s lawyers countered the motion claiming that the company was liable for the extended limitation period as they concealed information about the dangers of their product.
In August 2022, the paraquat MDL judge randomly selected 20 additional cases from the 1,700 cases pending in the MDL for limited fact discovery. The judge ordered that the plaintiffs’ depositions be completed within 60 days and a testimony summary report provided to the court. These discoveries will help the legal teams on either side get a feel of the paraquat lawsuits and determine settlement amounts.
In February 2023, the plaintiffs in the Paraquat MDL filed a motion seeking the court to order Exponent Inc., a third-party scientific consulting company, to provide documents related to a Syngenta project they worked on regarding the safety of Paraquat. Exponent refuses to issue the documents in response to boilerplate objections and a prior subpoena. Consequently, Exponent and Syngenta filed a response objecting to the compulsion motion. This resistance could be equated to the documents’ value in the causation and knowledge part of the defendant.
In March 2023, the parties engaged in a battle over key expert witnesses to prove the link between Parkinson’s and Paraquat. The defense side opposes a supplemental report from the plaintiffs’ key expert witness, Prof. David Mortensen, a professor of plant ecology at Penn State University. The report was filed three months after the expert reports deadline and contained issues arising from his depositions. The ruling on the submission of this report is still pending.
Also, the defense has been targeting another plaintiff expert witness, expert statistician Martin Wells, seeking his removal. This expert is expected to testify to a meta-analysis he performed on various epidemiological studies supporting the connection between Paraquat and Parkinson’s disease. The defense in the lawsuit claims that Wells only picked and focused on studies that supported his conclusion. The plaintiffs are expected to file their response, and the court will provide its ruling on both witnesses before the trial scheduled for October 2023.
In March 2023, over 200 paraquat lawsuits in Pennsylvania state courts were consolidated into an MDL in Philadelphia, and they are also taking in a new case through the short form complaint (SFC). Paraquat lawsuits in Pennsylvania are subject to the statute of limitations, which provides deadlines for filing claims. Therefore, plaintiffs must file their lawsuits within two years of diagnosis; otherwise, their cases are dismissed.
As of March 16 2023, the federal Paraquat MDL had 2,998 pending cases, and new cases are still being added to the MDL. Our Paraquat attorneys can help you with your case too.
What is Paraquat?
Paraquat dichloride is a toxic chemical used for weed and grass control (herbicide). The chemical kills plants by inducing oxidative stress. In the US, the chemical is sold in liquid form and is classified by EPA as “restricted use”, meaning it is only used by licensed persons and organizations. Since it is highly toxic when consumed, the chemical appears like a blue dye with a sharp odor to avoid accidental consumption.
The use of Paraquat has been increasing as some weeds have become resistant to other herbicides. The most common paraquat brand name is Gramoxone, manufactured by Syngenta, an agrochemical company based in Switzerland.
Other products containing Paraquat include Ortho-Paraquat, Blanco, Devour, Firestorm, Bonedry, Helmquat 3SL, Cyclone SL 2.0, Paraquat Concentrate and Para-Shot 3.0
Paraquat poisoning occurs when the chemical is inhaled, ingested or if it comes into contact with the skin. The effects on the individual depend on their health condition and duration of exposure. When ingested, it damages the lining of the mouth, stomach and intestines and causes toxic reactions in the lungs, liver and kidneys. Seven out of ten people who ingest Paraquat die, even when consumed in small amounts.
Even after surviving the paraquat poisoning, the individual suffers from long-term lung damage because the lung cells accumulate the chemical and get inflamed and scarred. It also leads to oesophagal strictures, kidney failure and heart failure.
Studies carried out over the past decade have shown that long-term occupational exposure to Paraquat can lead to Parkinson’s disease.
What is Parkinson’s disease (PD)?
Parkinson’s is a neurological disorder involving the deterioration of specific brain cells which control body motor functions. The disease causes symptoms such as muscle stiffness, lack of balance, tremors and impaired movement. PD symptoms start gradually progressing, making it challenging to talk and walk. The affected person may have specific behavioral and mental changes, depression, fatigue, loss of memory and sleep problems.
PD is more prevalent in men, and the causes are believed to be genetic factors and exposure to some chemicals, such as pesticides. Age is also a risk factor, with most people developing Parkinson’s disease symptoms from age 60. Early onset of Parkinson’s can begin at 50 and is often related to gene alterations.
How does Parkinson’s disease occur?
The disease’s prominent symptoms begin showing when nerve cells in the basal ganglia become impaired or die- this is the brain section controlling movements. These nerve cells are also responsible for dopamine production; thus, the production reduces as they degenerate. Dopamine is a chemical that sends signals that help with movement. Many factors are speculated to cause the death of these neurons.
Parkinson’s patients also lose nerve endings producing norepinephrine- a sympathetic nervous system chemical messenger. This compound controls body functions such as heart rate and blood pressure. As a result, the individual experiences slow digestion, fatigue and irregular blood pressure, especially when the person stands from a sitting position.
The brain cells of Parkinson’s patients contain Lewy bodies. These are unusual protein alpha-synuclein clumps, which researchers are yet to establish their relationship to Parkinson’s condition.
The disease is diagnosed through neurological examination. There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. However, symptoms are reduced through medication, surgical treatment and therapy.
Studies connecting PD and Paraquat
Paraquat has become a key focus in studying possible causes of Parkinson’s disease. This is because a paraquat molecule is structurally similar to the chemical used to induce Parkinson’s disease in experimental animals (N-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine) MTPTP.
Animal and self-reported Parkinson’s disease studies have shown a close connection between Parkinson’s and Paraquat. This chemical causes oxidative stress related to PD. One of the most recent paraquat studies published in September 2021 also discovered that exposure to Paraquat among pregnant women leads to prenatal neurodevelopment toxicity, with close symptoms to those of Parkinson’s disease.
A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2009 shows a close link between paraquat exposure and Parkinson’s disease. According to this study, people living within 1600ft of areas sprayed with Paraquat are at increased risk of Parkinson’s disease. The researchers also published more detailed research in the same journal in 2011, concluding a solid association between Parkinson’s and paraquat exposure. The primary concern with these studies is that they were not controlled, leading to much criticism.
In 2014, 5 case-controlled studies strongly linking PD to Paraquat were published in the Annual Review of Pharmacology and Toxicology. Prompted by these findings, the EPA began conducting a safety review of Paraquat in 2016.
In 2021, Greenpeace published the paraquat papers detailing the attempts by Syngenta and Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) to conceal paraquat exposure risks from the public. ICI undertook several strategies to keep the herbicide in the market, such as adding PP796 to the product to reduce its toxicity. This component works by inducing vomiting when Paraquat is ingested. Former Syngenta toxicologist Jon Heylings also reported the low levels of PP796 in the Gramoxine, stating that they were insufficient to induce vomiting in people who consumed the minimal lethal dose. Jon also said he had raised the issue with his superiors several times, and no action was taken. He blamed the company’s former toxicologist stating that he misled the company.
Expected Settlement for a Paraquat Lawsuit
Since the paraquat bellwether cases are yet to be tried, we can only speculate on the settlements based on payouts in similar claims. Attorneys believe payouts could range between $250,000 and $600,000, up to $1M.
Who is eligible for a paraquat lawsuit?
Those who can file for a paraquat lawsuit include those exposed to the chemical and later diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Contact us if you suspect your or your loved one’s Parkinson’s disease could be due to paraquat exposure. We handle paraquat cases on a contingency basis.
Here are the eligibility criteria:
- Those who came into contact with Paraquat
- Worked in a company using Paraquat
- Lived near a far using paraquat herbicides
- Developed Parkinson’s disease after exposure to Paraquat