Status of Paraquat Litigation
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As part of the review of the plaintiff’s claims to determine which can move forward, the court directed each plaintiff to complete a Plaintiff’s Assessment Questionnaire. The questionnaire seeks medical, financial, and insurance history and information on workplace exposure to Paraquat and other chemicals. It also asks questions about the type of personal protective equipment used.
The judge also has determined that a jury will hear bellwether cases and has established key protocols and procedures for selecting the first set of these 16 bellwether cases. Based upon the protocols, attorneys for the plaintiffs and defendants will each have the opportunity to choose eight cases that must meet specific guidelines for these bellwether trials. Attorneys will then have until March 31, 2022, to conduct discovery and each will be able to select two cases to strike from the pool based upon that discovery. The remaining 12 will move forward to expert discovery. In expert discovery, a medical doctor testifies whether the plaintiff’s Paraquat exposure caused Parkinson’s disease.
Background on the Paraquat lawsuit
The lawsuits named Syngenta and Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. and Growmark Inc. as defendants. Chevron distributed and sold a Paraquat formulation known as Gramoxone in the United States in an agreement with a Syngenta predecessor called Imperial Chemical Industries. (ICI). ICI introduced Paraquat-based Gramoxone in 1962. Under a license agreement, Chevron had the right to manufacture, use, and sell the Gramoxone formulation in the United States. That formulation was produced by ChemChina’s Syngenta Group and Chevron.
Several studies have linked Paraquat to Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative nervous system disorder leading to mild or severe disability. Europe, China, Brazil, and many other countries have banned the use of Paraquat. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has approved Paraquat only for licensed commercial use under strict guidelines.
To date, multiple plaintiffs have sued Syngenta Group and Chevron, alleging “that manufacturers and sellers of Paraquat deliberately concealed the dangers of Paraquat for at least four decades, hid evidence of its dangers from government safety agencies, and knowingly unleashed a product they knew caused Parkinson’s Disease on the public.”
Paraquat Litigation Timeline
The current litigation related to the herbicide Paraquat began with one case. Thomas Hoffman, a farmer, alleges he developed Parkinson’s disease from long-term exposure to Paraquat. His exposure began in the fifth grade and continued for decades.
Hoffman filed his lawsuit on September 15, 2017, and died 23 days later. His lawsuit alleges that the defendants knew “that Paraquat is toxic to both plant and animal cells, and that its creation of oxidative stress in cells is the source of its toxicity.”
Hoffman v. Syngenta was scheduled for a hearing in June 2021, but the hearing was canceled, suggesting a potential settlement.
Other plaintiffs also filed lawsuits alleging that the onset of their Parkinson’s was attributable to Paraquat and that defendants knew of the health risks when they produced and marketed it.
In February 2021, Jim Hemker filed a lawsuit, claiming his 2008 Parkinson’s diagnosis resulted from his repeated exposure to products containing Paraquat.
In March 2021, Plaintiff Paul Rakoczy filed in California, and Plaintiff Michael Joseph Kearns filed in Illinois, alleging their Parkinson’s was linked to Paraquat exposure.
In April 2021, a Missouri woman who was regularly exposed to the herbicide over a period of 15 years, filed her suit. She claims she was exposed directly and via contaminated drinking water and from wind drift.
In June, a couple in Texas sued after the man developed Parkinson’s disease while working at the Rock Island Railroad in 1970. The plaintiff sprayed Paraquat around railroad bridges and worked from an office in a room where the herbicide was stored. The couple alleges that Paraquat makers concealed its dangers for at least 40 years.
Eventually, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated all the Paraquat lawsuits in the Northern District of California.
A transfer order was filed on June 1, 2022, and the cases in MDL-3004 consolidated in the Southern District of Illinois under Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel.
In October 2021, Chevron U.S.A. Inc. filed a stipulation with the court stating that they had agreed with the plaintiffs’ co-lead counsel allowing for the dismissal of Chevron U.S.A. and other entities from the litigation.
The stipulation states that Chevron Chemical Company (whose liabilities Chevron U.S.A. Inc. assumed) stopped distributing Paraquat in 1986 and transferred all Paraquat registrations held by Chevron to a non‐Chevron entity at that time.
As of September 15, 2022, there were 1,925 pending cases in the MDL.
The court initially chose 16 cases for discovery and has narrowed them to the following six cases for case-specific discovery:
- Burgener v. Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC, et al.
- Coward v. Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC, et al.
- Fuller v. Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC, et al.
- Marx v. Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC, et al.
- Richter v. Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC, et al.
- Walkington v. Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC, et al.
The deadline for the final depositions has been extended to February 2023.
Another study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found evidence in animals and cell models suggesting that pesticides cause a neurodegenerative process leading to Parkinson’s disease. However, the study did not find enough data to support that these pesticides pose a risk of Parkinson’s in humans. Another study, published in the journal Cell Death and Differentiation, also found links but lacked enough data to conclude that human exposure to the chemicals leads to Parkinson’s.
The Centers for Disease Control has issued warnings that ingestion of Paraquat through the mouth or skin can lead to Paraquat poisoning. Paraquat poisoning can cause heart, lung, and kidney damage, seizures, and loss of muscular strength. Ingestion of a large amount can cause death. The CDC recommends removing and disposing of clothes and contact lenses and washing the body thoroughly when exposed to Paraquat.
“Recent research links Paraquat and several other herbicides to the development of Parkinson’s pathology and symptoms. The most recent scientific studies indicate:
When combined with other factors, such as genetic disposition, exposure to the fungicide maneb or the insecticide rotenone, the risk is even greater.”
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Contact Case Works to learn how the team can help your law firm manage the development of Paraquat cases.