Judge Establishes Coordination For Paraquat Parkinson’s Disease Lawsuits Pending in Federal and State Courts

Nearly 400 cases are currently filed in the federal court system, with additional cases pending in several different state courts, each involving similar allegations that Paraquat caused Parkinson's disease to develop.

The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Paraquat Parkinson’s disease lawsuits has ordered parties involved in the litigation to coordinate with state courts, to promote further efficiency in how the cases are being handled during discovery and pretrial proceedings.

Paraquat was first introduced in the 1960s, and has been widely used on farms and throughout the agricultural industry. Due to the risk of Paraquat poisoning, which can cause fatal injuries if even a small amount of the herbicide is ingested, it has been heavily restricted in the U.S., requiring users to complete a training and certification program on the safe handling of the weed killer.

However, Syngenta and Chevron U.S.A. now face nearly 400 product liability lawsuits brought throughout the federal court system, each alleging that the manufacturers failed to warn users about the link between Paraquat exposure and Parkinson’s disease, which can result following normal and expected use of the weedkiller.

Given similar questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide, the federal litigation is currently centralized before Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel in the Southern District of Illinois, for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings leading up to a series of Paraquat trials expected to begin in November 2022.

Currently, there are at least 384 Paraquat claims included in the federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) before Judge Rosenstengel. However, there are also a number of complaints filed in various different state courts nationwide, including California, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Washington state.

On October 26, Judge Rosenstengel issued a coordination order (PDF), which calls for cooperative efforts between the state and federal court cases, particularly during the fact discovery proceedings.

“Because the MDL Proceeding and Other Paraquat Actions involve similar claims and many of the same parties, discovery in these proceedings will substantially overlap,” Judge Rosenstengel wrote. “To achieve the full benefits of this MDL Proceeding for all parties, this Court has and will continue to encourage cooperative efforts to coordinate with courts presiding over Other Paraquat Actions with respect to fact discovery, to the extent practicable.”

The Judge noted that state courts were still fully independent jurisdictions, and that no party had waived any jurisdictional rights or obligations. However, coordination will help avoid duplicative discovery into common issues in the cases and conserve judicial resources.

As part of the coordinated federal litigation, Judge Rosenstengel has indicated that a series of “bellwether” trials will be held to help the parties gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the claims. However, unless the manufacturers are able to successfully defend the cases at trial or negotiate Paraquat settlements for individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, each individual case may later be remanded back to U.S. District Courts nationwide for separate trials in the future.

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