Judge Orders Parties to Rank Paraquat Injury Cases In Order of Preference for Bellwether Trials

Parties must decide which of 16 potential Paraquat injury cases selected for bellwether trials will go before juries first.

After a group of 16 representative Paraquat injury lawsuits were selected last year for a “bellwether” discovery process, the U.S. District Judge presiding over the litigation has asked the parties to rank the cases in the order they would like them to go before juries.

There are currently about 900 product liability lawsuits pending in the federal court system against Syngenta and Chevron, who manufactured Paraquat-based herbicides that have been widely used on farms and other areas throughout the United States for decades.

Each of the claims raise similar allegations that the companies failed to adequately warn about the link between paraquat and Parkinson’s disease, which research has found may develop years after regularly spaying, mixing, transporting or handling the weedkiller, which has been banned in several countries.

Given common questions of fact and law raised in the litigation, the cases have been centralized before U.S. District Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel in the Southern District of Illinois, for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings as part of an MDL or multidistrict litigation.

To help the parties gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the claims, a group of 16 cases were previously selected for a “bellwether” process, where they have gone through case-specific discovery in preparation for a series of four Paraquat jury trials that are expected to begin between November 2022 and the end of 2023.

In an order (PDF) issued earlier this month, Judge Rosenstengel called for plaintiffs and defendants to each rank the 16 potential bellwether trial cases in the order they prefer the cases to go to trial, with limited fact discovery for all of the cases slated to be completed by March 31.

In ranking the potential Paraquat trial cases, Judge Rosenstengel is asking the parties to create a one-page report for each case, which outlines the facts of the case, whether the cases is representative of the majority of other Paraquat lawsuits pending in the federal court system, how the cases has progressed to date and why the case should be scheduled for one of the four initial bellwether trials; or why not.

The Court plans to select the specific Paraquat injury cases for full trial work up by April 15.

According to a prior scheduling order issued by the Court, it is expected that all fact discovery and expert depositions in the cases will be completed by June 17, with additional dispositive motions, challenges to the admissibility of expert witness testimony or summary judgment motions due before July 1.

A final pre-trial conference is currently scheduled to take place on October 27, with a individual Paraquat jury trials set to begin on November 15, 2022, March 13, 2023, June 12, 2023 and September 18, 2023.

While the outcome of these bellwether trials will not have any binding impact on other plaintiffs, they are expected to greatly influence any Paraquat settlement offers the manufacturers may make to avoid each case later being remanded back for separate trial dates in U.S. District Courts nationwide.

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