Opportunity for Paraquat Parkinson’s Disease Settlements May Follow Court’s Effort To Further Vet Questionable Lawsuits

Individuals diagnosed with Parkinson's disease are pursuing Paraquat settlements from manufacturers of the controversial weedkiller, for failing to warn about the risks associated with exposure.

With more than 5,000 Paraquat lawsuits pending in the federal court system, the U.S. District Judge presiding over the litigation has taken steps in recent months to vet claims involving questionable theories of liability, which may put the parties in a better position to negotiate Parkinson’s disease settlements before the first bellwether cases proceed to trial.

Each of the complaints involved in the litigation raise similar allegations that Syngenta and Chevron failed to adequately disclose the link between Paraquat and Parkison’s disease, with the vast majority of lawsuits being brought by individuals who routinely sprayed, mixed, transported or handled the controversial weed killer. However, a number of claims involve allegations of Paraquat “drift”, where plaintiffs were exposed to the weed killer from nearby spraying, which the manufacturers have indicated they will not settle.

Given common questions of fact and law raised in lawsuits brought by individuals throughout the federal court system, 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.

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” process where a small group of Paraquat lawsuits are being prepared for trial, which are expected to be representative of the bulk of claims in the litigation.

However, there has not been progress negotiating Paraquat Parkinson’s disease settlements, largely due to claims remaining in the litigation that do not appear to involve direct exposure to the weed killer.

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In response to concerns over a number of claims identified by the Defendants as having “implausible” theories of liability connecting plaintiffs’ illnesses to Paraquat exposure, Judge Rosenstengal called for additional discovery in 25 potential Paraquat cases earlier this year, requiring case-specific depositions over the first few months of 2024.

Within weeks of the Courts order, at least nine of the selected cases that involved questionable theories of liability were withdrawn by plaintiffs, leading the court to replace each of those cases last month. However, in another case management order (PDF) issued on March 7, Judge Rosenstengal indicates that another nine cases have been withdrawn, so the Court replaced those as well.

“(T)he Court expects that limited discovery from these and previously identified Discovery Plaintiffs will provide representative data about them, determine where their claims are plausible and substantiated, and expose nonmeritorious claims,” Judge Rosenstengal wrote. “This additional discovery is aligned with prior Orders entered by this Court requiring non-bellwether plaintiff discovery and depositions in other mass actions.”

Removing the “non-meritorious” cases will likely assist the parties in reaching a Paraquat Parkinson’s disease settlement agreements. However, if resolutions are not reached to resolve large numbers of claims after the vetting process and early bellwether trials in the MDL, it is expected that the Court may start remanding hundreds of claims back to the U.S. District Courts where they originated for separate trial dates in the coming years.

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