Move to consolidate U.S. paraquat litigation as cases mount against Syngenta

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Lawyers suing Swiss chemical company Syngenta are asking a U.S. judicial panel to consolidate more than a dozen similar lawsuits under the oversight of a federal judge in California. The move is a telling sign of the expansion of litigation that alleges the company’s weed killing products cause Parkinson’s Disease.

According to the motion, filed April 7 by the Texas-based Fears Nachawati law firm with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, there are currently at least 14 lawsuits filed by eight different law firms in six different federal courts across the country. The lawsuits are all filed on behalf of plaintiffs who have been diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disorder, and they allege exposure to Syngenta’s weed killers made with a chemical called paraquat for the disease. Several other cases making the same allegations are pending in state courts.

“The cases are excellent candidates for coordinated pretrial proceedings because they arise from the same poisonous toxin causing the same crippling disease resulting from the wrongful conduct of the same three defendants,” the Fears Nachawati brief in support of its motion states. “Movant expects that the number of similar cases filed in state and federal courts across the country will expand rapidly.”

The motion seeks transfer specifically to Judge Edward Chen in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Majed Nachawati, a partner with the Fears Nachawati firm, said the firm was still investigating the size and scope of the overall litigation but believes the paraquat litigation against Syngenta “will be significant and material in nature…”

“Very soon, there is going to be litigation in dozens of federal courts across the country,” Nachawati said.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers will be seeking internal corporate documents as well as depositions of corporate officials related to the “testing, design, labeling, marketing, and safety of paraquat herbicides,” along with corporate research and evaluations of the toxicity and safety of its paraquat products.

The Miller Firm of Virginia, which helped lead the Roundup cancer litigation against Monsanto that resulted in an $11 billion settlement with Monsanto owner Bayer AG, is among the law firms joining in the paraquat litigation. The Miller firm supports the effort to consolidate the federal actions in California, where thousands of Roundup cases were also consolidated for pretrial proceedings, according to the firm’s lead attorney Mike Miller.

“We are confident that science strongly supports the causal connection between paraquat and the devastation of Parkinson’s disease,” Miller said of the motion. “The Northern District of California is well equipped to handle these cases.”

The cases against Syngenta also name Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. as a defendant. Chevron distributed and sold Gramoxone paraquat products in the United States starting with an agreement with a Syngenta predecessor called Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), which introduced paraquat-based Gramoxone in 1962. Under a license agreement, Chevron had the right to manufacture, use, and sell paraquat formulations in the U.S.

Syngenta and Chevron have denied the allegations.

Syngenta says that its paraquat products have been approved as “safe and effective” for more than 50 years and it will “vigorously” defend the lawsuits. Syngenta is owned by China National Chemical Corporation, known as ChemChina.

Scientific studies

Parkinson’s is an incurable progressive disorder that affects nerve cells in the brain, leading in advanced cases to severe physical debilitation and often dementia. Many Parkinson’s experts say the disease can be caused by a range of factors, including exposure to pesticides such as paraquat, as well as other chemicals.

Several scientific studies have linked paraquat to Parkinson’s, including a large study of U.S. farmers jointly overseen by multiple U.S. government agencies. That 2011 research reported that people who used paraquat were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as people who did not use it.

“Numerous epidemiological and animal studies have linked paraquat to Parkinson’s disease,” said Dorsey Ray, a professor of neurology and director of the Center for Human Experimental Therapeutics at University of Rochester in New York. Dorsey is also the author of a book about prevention and treatment of Parkinson’s Disease.

“The evidence linking paraquat to Parkinson’s disease is probably the strongest of any pesticide commonly used,” he said.

Some studies have not found any clear links between paraquat and Parkinson’s and Syngenta asserts that the most recent and authoritative research does not show a connection.

Indeed, a study published in 2020 found connections between some other pesticides and Parkinson’s, but no strong evidence showing paraquat causes the disease.

Upcoming trial

One case filed in a state court is scheduled to go to trial next month. Hoffman V. Syngenta is slated for trial May 10 in St. Clair County Circuit Court in Illinois. A status conference is scheduled for the end of this month.

Missouri lawyer Steve Tillery, who is representing the plaintiffs in the Hoffman case as well as several other plaintiffs in other paraquat lawsuits, said despite Syngenta’s assertions to the contrary, he has accumulated evidence that includes internal company records showing Syngenta has known for decades that its product causes Parkinson’s Disease.

“They shouldn’t be selling this product, said Tillery. “This chemical should be off the market.”

New Roundup cancer trials loom despite Bayer settlement efforts

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Ken Moll is girding for battle.

Moll, a Chicago-based personal injury attorney, has dozens of lawsuits pending against the former Monsanto Co., all alleging the company’s Roundup weed killers cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and he is now preparing several of those cases for trial.

Moll’s firm is one of a handful that have refused settlement offers made by Monsanto owner Bayer AG, deciding instead to take the fight over the safety of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide products back into courtrooms around the country.

Though Bayer has assured investors it is bringing closure to the costly Roundup litigation through settlement deals totaling more than $11 billion, new Roundup cases are still being filed, and notably several are positioned for trial, with the earliest set to start in July.

“We’re going forward,” Moll said. “We’re doing this.”

Moll has lined up many of the same expert witnesses who helped win the three Roundup trials held to date. And he plans to rely heavily on the same internal Monsanto documents that provided shocking revelations of corporate misconduct that led juries to award hefty punitive damages to the plaintiffs in each of those trials.

Trial set for July 19

One case with a trial date looming involves a 70-year-old woman named Donnetta Stephens from Yucaipa, California who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) in 2017 and has suffered from numerous health complications amid multiple rounds of chemotherapy. Stephens was recently granted a trial “preference,” meaning her case has been expedited, after her lawyers informed the court that Stephens is “in a perpetual state of pain,” and losing cognition and memory. The case is set for trial July 19 in San Bernardino County Superior Court in California.

Several other cases have either already been granted preference trial dates, or are seeking trial dates, for elderly people and at least one child suffering from NHL the plaintiffs allege was caused by exposure to Roundup products.

The litigation is not over. It is going to be a continued headache for Bayer and Monsanto,” said Andrew Kirkendall, whose Texas-based firm is helping represent Stephens and other clients seeking speedy trials.

Kirkendall said his firm has lawsuits moving forward to trial in California, Oregon, Missouri, Arkansas and Massachusetts.

This has the potential to be the next asbestos litigation,” he said, referring to decades of lawsuits brought over asbestos-related health problems.

Bayer rejection

Bayer bought Monsanto in June 2018 just as the first Roundup cancer trial was getting underway. Juries in each of the cases that went to trial found that Monsanto’s herbicides do cause cancer and that Monsanto spent decades hiding the risks. Jury awards totaled well over $2 billion, though the judgments have been ordered reduced in the appeals process.

After coming under intense pressure from investors to find a way to cap liability, Bayer announced in June that it had reached a $10 billion settlement to resolve most of more than 100,000 Roundup cancer claims in the United States. Since that time it has been signing deals with law firms around the country, including the firms that have led the litigation since the first suits were filed in 2015. The company is also trying to get court approval for a separate $2 billion plan to try to keep Roundup cancer cases that could be filed in the future from going to trial.

Bayer has been unable to settle with all of the firms with Roundup cancer clients, however. According to multiple plaintiffs’ attorneys, their firms rejected settlement offers because the amounts generally ranged from $10,000 to $50,000 per plaintiff – compensation the attorneys deemed inadequate.

“We said absolutely no,” Moll said.

Another law firm pushing cases forward for trial is the San Diego, California-based Singleton Law Firm, which has roughly 400 Roundup cases pending in Missouri and about 70 in California.

The firm is seeking an expedited trial now for 76-year-old Joseph Mignone, who was diagnosed with NHL in 2019. Mignone completed chemotherapy more than a year ago but also has endured radiation to treat a tumor on his neck, and continues to suffer debilitation, according to the court filing seeking trial preference.

Stories of suffering

There are many stories of suffering within the files of the plaintiffs who are still hoping to get their day in court against Monsanto.

  • Retired FBI agent and college professor John Schafer began using Roundup in 1985 and used the herbicide multiple times during spring, fall and summer months until 2017, according to court records. He did not wear protective clothing until warned by a farmer friend in 2015 to wear gloves. He was diagnosed with NHL in 2018.
  • Sixty-three year-old Randall Seidl applied Roundup over 24 years, including regularly spraying the product around his yard in San Antonio, Texas from approximately 2005 to 2010 and then around property in North Carolina until 2014 when he was diagnosed with NHL, according to court records.
  • Robert Karman applied Roundup products beginning in 1980, generally using a hand-held sprayer to treat weeds on a weekly basis roughly 40 weeks a year, according to court records. Karman was diagnosed with NHL in July 2015 after his primary care doctor discovered a lump in his groin. Karman died in December of that year at the age of 77.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Gerald Singleton said Bayer’s only path to putting the Roundup litigation behind it is to put a clear warning label on its herbicide products, alerting users to the risk of cancer.

“That is the only way this thing is going to be over and done,” he said. Until then, he said, “we’re not going to stop taking cases.”