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As a growing number of farmers and agricultural workers with Parkinson’s disease file Paraquat lawsuits against makers of the toxic weed and grass killer, a motion has been filed in the federal court system to consolidate and centralize the litigation before one U.S. District Judge for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.
Paraquat is a controversial herbicide that has been banned in several countries, but remains widely used throughout the United States under restrictions that require users to go through a special training and certification process to ensure the safe handling of the chemical.
While Paraquat is known to pose a serious risk of fatal poisoning, where accidentally ingesting even small amounts can quickly result in death, a number of studies published in recent years have highlighted a potential link between Paraquat and Parkinson’s disease, indicating that even farm workers following recommended precautions while spraying, mixing or handling the herbicide may be more likely to develop the progressive and debilitating neurological disease.
Over the past few months, at least 14 product liability lawsuits have been filed against Syngenta, Chevron and other manufacturers, alleging that they knew or should have known about the Parkinson’s disease risks, yet withheld critical safety warnings and information from consumers and regulators. However, as more individuals discover that their diagnosis may be the result of Paraquat exposure, it is expected that hundreds, if not thousands, of additional claims will be filed in the coming months and years.
On April 7, plaintiff Paul Rakoczy filed a motion to transfer (PDF) with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML), calling for all of the lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system to be consolidated for pretrial proceedings in the Northern District of California before Judge Edward M. Chen.
Known as an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, such centralization is common in complex product liability litigation, where a large number of claims are being filed in courts nationwide over the similar injuries caused by the same product defects. Coordinating the cases before one judge is intended to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and serve the convenience of common witnesses, parties and the judicial system.
“Actions for paraquat-induced Parkinson’s Disease involve common questions of law and fact and substantially similar legal claims and requested relief,” the motion states. “Early centralization for pretrial proceedings will not only promote efficiency but will further eliminate the threat of inconsistent pretrial rulings.”
It is expected that the U.S. JPML will schedule oral arguments on the motion in May 2021, and determine whether it is appropriate to transfer the cases to one judge, or wait until more complaints have been filed. It is also likely other venues may be proposed by manufacturers or other plaintiffs in response to the motion.
If a Paraquat MDL is established, cases filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide will be transferred to one court for management, and series of early “bellwether” trials designed to help gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence that will be repeated throughout the litigation. However, if Paraquat Parkinson’s settlements or another resolution is not reached following the MDL proceedings, each individual case may later be returned to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for a separate trial in the future.