Nearly 300 Paraquat Lawsuits Filed Over Parkinson’s Disease Diagnoses

Syngenta and Chevron U.S.A. face a growing number of Paraquat lawsuits, with nearly 300 complaints filed throughout the federal court system by individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease following exposure to the controversial weed killer that was widely used on farms throughout the U.S. in recent decades.

Given similar questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide, the federal litigation is currently centralized before Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel in the Southern District of Illinois, for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings leading up to a series of trials expected to begin in November 2022.

According to a docket report (PDF), there were already about 290 product liability lawsuits centralized as part of the federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) as of September 15, with a steady number of new complaints continuing to be brought as former users learn about the link between Paraquat and Parkinson’s disease.

A complaint (PDF) filed last week by Joel and Kim Coburn raises allegations that are repeated throughout the litigation, indicating Syngenta and Chevron knew or should have known that Paraquat was a highly toxic substance, which can cause severe neurological injuries and impairment, yet it was sold and distributed for decades without proper warnings and directions.

Paraquat was first introduced in the 1960s, and has been widely used on farms and throughout the agricultural industry. Due to the risk of Paraquat poisoning, which can cause fatal injuries if even a small amount of the herbicide is ingested, it has been heavily restricted in the U.S., requiring users to complete a training and certification program on the safe handling of the weed killer. However, the Coburns and other plaintiffs indicate the manufacturers failed to disclose the Parkinson’s disease risk that results from the normal and expected use of Paraquat.

Joel Coburn indicates he was directly exposed to Paraquat while working for Therma Gas from 1991 to 1992, and that he regularly mixed and sprayed it on potatoes grown on land owned by North Star Minerals, where he worked from 1993 to 2012. In about 2008 he began experiencing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, and was officially diagnosed with the neurological disorder in 2009.

“During the entire time that Plaintiff was exposed to Paraquat, Plaintiff did not know that exposure to Paraquat when handling according to the instructions could be injurious to Plaintiff and others,” according to the lawsuit. “Plaintiff first learned that exposure to Paraquat can cause Parkinson’s disease, end stage renal disease and other serious illnesses sometime after July 2021.”

Parkinson’s disease affects more than 500,000 Americans, with approximately 50,000 new cases each year, resulting in a loss of motor functions, causing imbalance and shaking, which gets progressively worse over time.

While most individuals believe the condition is caused by genetics, increasing research published in recent years has established that pesticide exposure, and Paraquat in particular greatly increase the risk. As more lawsuits are filed, and individuals learn that Parkinson’s disease diagnosed in recent years may be the result of prior exposure to Paraquat, it is expected that several thousand lawsuits may eventually be filed.

As part of the coordinated federal litigation, Judge Rosenstengel has indicated that a series of “bellwether” trials will be held to help the parties gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the claims. However, unless the manufacturers are able to successfully defend the cases at trial or negotiate Paraquat settlements for individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, each individual case may later be remanded back to U.S. District Courts nationwide for separate trials in the future.

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