Court Orders Depositions in 25 Paraquat Parkinson’s Disease Lawsuits, Amid Concerns About “Far-Fetched” Theories of Liability

Case-specific discovery and depositions must be completed by March 22, 2024, as the Judge presiding over the litigation indicates additional cases with unusual theories or fact patterns may require work up.

With more than 5,000 Paraquat lawsuits pending in the federal court system, most of which involve farmers or agricultural workers diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease after regular exposure to the controversial weedkiller, the U.S. District Judge presiding over the litigation has ordered the parties to complete depositions in 25 cases, which appear to involve “implausible theories of liability” about how Paraquat caused the plaintiff’s injury.

Given common questions of fact and law raised in complaints brought by individuals nationwide, the Paraquat litigation has been centralized before U.S. District Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel in the Southern District of Illinois since June 2021, as part of a federal MDL, or multidistrict litigation.

Each of the claims allege that Syngenta or Chevron failed to adequately disclose the link between Paraquat and Parkinson’s disease, often involving individuals who routinely sprayed, mixed, transported or handled the herbicide. However, some claims involve allegations that plaintiffs were exposed to Paraquat through drift or other means, which the manufacturers have identified as outliers in the litigation.

While the parties have been focusing most of their efforts on general causation issues that apply to all claims, or case-specific discovery on a small group of representative lawsuits that may be prepared for early trial dates, Judge Rosenstengel indicates that additional discovery is needed in claims that may involve “far-fetched” theories.

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Paraquat Parkison’s Disease Lawsuit Depositions

In a case management order (PDF) issued on January 22, the Court called for depositions to be completed over the next two months in 25 cases, indicating that Defendants had identified those cases as using implausible theories of liability connecting the plaintiffs’ illnesses to Paraquat exposure.

The Court had previously identified four categories of exposure claims that present “far-fetched” theories of proof, including those where plaintiffs have no information concerning their exposure to Paraquat; have no evidence to support a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis; have claimed to have used Paraquat in a form in which it never existed, such as in pellet form; or other issues which have led to the voluntary dismissal of some previously chosen bellwether lawsuits.

“According to the Special Master, between September 19, 2023, and November 17, 2023, Defendants began to send letters to certain Plaintiffs’ counsel identifying plaintiffs represented by those counsel that Defendants contend do not identify any plausible exposure to paraquat based on each plaintiff’s sworn statements in his or her verified Plaintiff Assessment Questionnaire (PAQ) or Amended PAQ. The Special Master has reviewed those letters, as well as the materials provided by Plaintiffs’ counsel in response,” Judge Rosenstengal wrote. “After the Special Master’s report to the Court regarding the status of all efforts by all parties, the Court remains concerned that a significant number of plaintiffs in the MDL— which now total over 5,000—do not plausibly allege exposure to paraquat.”

She indicates that the depositions are aimed at helping the Court determine whether the claims are plausible and substantiated, or should be dismissed as having a lack of merit.

January 2024 Paraquat Parkinson’s Disease Lawsuit Update

To help the parties evaluate how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout various claims, the Court previously established a bellwether schedule, which calls for a small group of Paraquat lawsuits to be prepared for trial, which are now expected to begin this year.

Eliminating cases that are unlikely to survive pretrial challenges may help the parties focus their collective resources and promote settlement negotiations that may resolve hundreds, or even thousands of individual claims currently pending before Judge Rosenstengel.

While the outcome of the early bellwether trials will not have any binding impact on other plaintiffs, they are expected to greatly influence the average Paraquat settlement amounts the manufacturers may offer to avoid each individual claim being remanded back to U.S. District Courts nationwide for separate trial dates in the coming years.

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