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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Paraquat Parkinson’s lawsuits has approved a Plaintiff’s Assessment Questionnaire (PAQ), which will provide information about each claim being pursued against makers of the controversial herbicide, as well as a more detailed Plaintiffs’ Fact Sheet (PFS) that will be completed in certain bellwether claims selected for early trial dates in the litigation.
There are currently about 200 product liability lawsuits filed against Syngenta and Chevron throughout the federal court system, each raising similar allegations that farmers and others in the agricultural industry were not adequately warned about the link between Paraquat and Parkinson’s disease. However, as additional plaintiffs contact lawyers and file claims in the coming months and years, it is ultimately expected that several thousand complaints will be included in the litigation.
Given common questions of fact and law raised in the lawsuits, all federal Paraquat Parkinson’s claims are centralized before U.S. District Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel in the Southern District of Illinois, as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL) for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.
In a case management order (PDF) issued on September 3, the MDL court adopted a 13-page Plaintiff’s Assessment Questionnaire (PAQ), which requests background information on each individual claimant, including their farming history, training, certifications and licensing, as well as information about their Paraquat exposure and medical history. Judge Rosenstengel indicates each plaintiff with a Paraquat claim filed in the MDL must complete the questionnaire, and a special master will establish the protocol for completing the forms and deadlines.
A separate 36-page Plaintiff Fact Sheet (PFS) was also approved by Judge Rosenstengel, which will be required for a small group of claims the Court anticipates selecting as part of a “trial case” pool, which will go through more detailed case discovery in preparation for a series of early Paraquat trial dates expected to begin by November 2022.
While the outcomes for these early trial dates will not be binding on plaintiffs in other Paraquat claims, they are designed to help gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.
Evidence of Parkinson’s Disease Risk from Paraquat
Paraquat is a controversial herbicide that has been widely used on farms and within the agricultural industry for decades, to control weeds and long grass. It is sold exclusively through farming and agricultural supply stores under a number of brand names, including Gramoxone, Blanco, Cyclone, Bonedry and others.
Since it is known to be toxic and users face a risk of Paraquat poisoning if even a small amount of the herbicide is ingested, the herbicide is only available in the United States under a program that requires users to go through a training program on the safe handling of the herbicide. However, plaintiffs allege the manufacturers failed to warn about the risk that Paraquat may cause Parkinson’s disease and other neurological injuries, even when the recommended precautions are taken.
In 2012, researchers from UCLA found a link between pesticide use and a risk of developing Parkinson’s, indicating that individuals who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and were exposed to Paraquat were three times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.
Another study published in May 2013 found yet another link between pesticide exposure and an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, indicating that pesticide exposure may increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s by 60 percent.
That study also found the risk increased with exposure to any type of pesticide, herbicide or solvent; but exposure to specific chemicals doubled the risk. Chemicals used in the test included Paraquat, Maneb and other pesticides.
In March 2016, the EPA announced it would be re-evaluating the health risks with Paraquat, and a number of health experts and consumer advocacy groups have called on the agency to remove Paraquat-based herbicides from the market in the U.S. However, it continues to be used by farmers and other industries for weed and grass control, potentially exposing individuals handling, mixing or applying the Paraquat to life-long health risks.
Parkinson’s disease affects more than 500,000 Americans, with approximately 50,000 new cases each year. The disease causes the loss of motor functions, causing imbalance and shaking, which gets progressively worse over time.
To help manage the growing number of claims being filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide, the Paraquat MDL was established before Judge Rosenstengel earlier this year to avoid duplicative discovery into common issues in the claims, avoid conflicting pretrial schedules and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and judicial system.
Following the exchange of information about each Paraquat Parkinson’s claim and any early bellwether trials, if the manufacturer fails to settle or otherwise resolve the litigation, each individual case now pending before Judge Rosenstengel may later be remanded back to U.S. District Courts nationwide for individual trials in the coming years.