Six Paraquat Parkinson’s Disease Lawsuits Selected For Case-Specific Discovery to Prepare for Trial

First jury trials are scheduled to begin in November 2022, involving allegations that the herbicide Paraquat caused Parkinson's disease among farmers and other agricultural workers

The U.S. District Judge presiding over all Paraquat Parkinson’s disease lawsuits has identified six cases that the parties will prepare for trial, to help gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.

There are currently about 900 product liability lawsuits brought throughout 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.

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 test the relative strengths and weaknesses of their claims and defenses, 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 will be held between November 2022 and the end of 2023.

After asking each side to rank the 16 cases by order or preference for trial, Judge Rosenstengel issued an order (PDF) on April 13, selecting the six cases that will undergo further discovery to prepare for trial.

Those six cases include:

  • Todd Burgener v. Syngenta: originally filed last October, Burgener, of Illinois, developed Parkinson’s disease after working with Paraquat since 1989.
  • Matthew Coward v. Syngenta and Chevron: Filed in December, Coward, from Florida, sprayed Paraquat on his family farm for more than two decades before being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
  • Keith Fuller v. Syngenta and Chevron: Fuller, of Illinois, filed this complaint a little over a year ago, and claims permanent physical injuries as a result of Paraquat exposure as a licensed applicator from his time as the owner of a fertilizer company.
  • Eve Marx v. Syngenta and Chevron: Filed last August, Marx was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease after applying it to vegetation for about six years.
  • Frederick L. Richter, II v. Syngenta and Chevron: Richter and his wife, Karen, filed the complaint in June 2021, indicating he was exposed to Paraquat and developed Parkinson’s disease after working with the weed killer in various places around Illinois.
  • Robert Dean Walkington v. Syngenta and Chevron: Walkington and his wife, Vickie, filed their complaint in June 2021 as well, also having contracted Parkinson’s disease after working with the weed killer around Illinois farms for years.

Rosenstengel’s order also notes that the court will begin reviewing all member cases in the MDL to identify additional plaintiffs that need to be deposed, which appears to be in response to growing concerns that many plaintiffs suffering from Parkinson’s disease are facing rapidly deteriorating health conditions while waiting for their case to proceed to trial.

According to a prior scheduling order issued by the Court, it is expected that all fact discovery and expert depositions in these bellwether 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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