Farmer Diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease Files Lawsuit Against Paraquat Manufacturers

The lawsuit claims manufacturers ignored studies warning about the risks of Paraquat exposure in order to increase profits, despite reports of farmers diagnosed with Parkinson's disease

Syngenta and Chevron face a lawsuit filed by a Tennessee farmer diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, alleging that the companies withheld information for decades about the risk of permanent neurological damage from Paraquat, a controversial weedkiller that has been widely used throughout the agricultural industry since the mid-1960s.

The complaint (PDF) was filed by Michael Gearrin last week in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, accusing the two Paraquat manufacturers of negligence and omissions in the research, testing, design, manufacturing, marketing and sale of the herbicide.

Paraquat is commonly used on farms throughout the United States to control weeds and long grass, even though it has been banned in several countries due to the toxic side effects. However, a growing number of farmers are now filing lawsuits alleging that Syngenta and Chevron knew that users faced an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease, even when all of the manufacturers’ recommended safety precautions were followed.

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Exposure to the toxic herbicide Paraquat has been linked to a risk of Parkinson's disease.

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Gearrin indicates he used Paraquat on his own farmland in Georgia from about 1978 to 1983, repeatedly inhaling or absorbing the chemical while it was being mixed or sprayed. In about 1987, the farmer began suffering symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, and was diagnosed with the condition in January 2021.

“Many epidemiological studies have found an association between Paraquat exposure and PD, including multiple studies finding a two- to- five-fold or greater increase in the risk of PD in populations with occupational exposure to Paraquat compared to populations without such exposure,” Gearrin’s lawsuit states. “Defendants had knowledge of these studies and the relationship between Paraquat and PD but actively and fraudulently concealed this information from Plaintiff and others.”

Although the farmer’s lawsuit claims that the manufacturers knew, or should have known, for years that Paraquat causes Parkinson’s disease, Gearrin indicates that no doctor or other person ever warned him about the risk, and he never heard about any studies or publications that associated Parkinson’s and Paraquat until last year, because Syngenta and Chevron took active steps to conceal the harmful side effects of Paraquat.

“Indeed, in response to growing concerns regarding the safety of Paraquat, Syngenta published a website for the purpose of convincing the public that Paraquat is safe,” according to the complaint. “Syngenta’s statements proclaiming the safety of Paraquat and disregarding its dangers were designed to mislead the agricutural community and the public at large – including Plaintiff.”

The case joins dozens of similar Paraquat Parkinson’s disease lawsuits now filed in courts throughout the U.S., each raising similar allegations that farmers and agricultural workers may have avoided the movement disorder if adequate warnings had been provided about the risks that may result from mixing, spraying, handling or even being in proximity to the herbicide.

While genetics are often believed to be a major cause of Parkinson’s disease, growing research indicates genes are only associated with about one-in-ten cases. Exposure to herbicides and pesticides are increasingly considered a leading risk, especially when combined with other factors that place individuals at risk of the development of Parkinson’s.

Given common questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed throughout the U.S., the federal Paraquat litigation has been centralized before one judge for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.

As part of the coordinated federal litigation, a federal judge 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, if Paraquat settlements or another resolution for the litigation is not reached, each individual case may later be returned to the home district where it was originally filed for a future trial.

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