A Paraquat lawsuit is a claim against the makers of the weed killer for causing Parkinson’s disease in people chronically exposed to it. The herbicide Paraquat’s toxicity affects not only farmers but also everyone in surrounding communities that may have ingested its vapors.
The growing number of Paraquat Parkinson’s disease lawsuits have been joined into a federal MDL (multi-district litigation), which streamlines the litigation and settlement process. Plaintiffs’ attorneys are alleging that the manufacturers Chevron and Syngenta defectively designed the weed killer and then failed to warn users about its negative health effects.
In this article, our Paraquat attorneys discuss:
- 1. Does Paraquat cause Parkinson’s disease?
- 2. What other injuries can I sue for?
- 3. What is the current state of the Paraquat litigation?
- 4. What money can I get?
- 5. Can only farmers sue?
- 6. How will the manufacturers fight the lawsuit?
- 7. What is Paraquat?
1. Does Paraquat cause Parkinson’s Disease?
There is substantial scientific evidence that chronic exposure to Paraquat causes increased risk of Parkinson’s disease (PD).
Absorbing or inhaling Paraquat – which is a toxic chemical – triggers oxidative stress in the body. This “redox cycling”, in turn, causes such cell membrane damage as:
- lipid peroxidation
- mitochondrial injury
- DNA breakage
Ultimately, this may result in the loss of dopamine neurons in the brain, specifically the SNpc (substantia nigra pars compacta). And this cell death can lead to the development of Parkinson’s disease.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:
- Slowed movement
- Difficulty with balance1
2. What other injuries can I sue for?
Litigation is still in early stages, but Paraquat victims may be able to sue for the following injuries in addition to – or instead of – Parkinson’s disease:
- lung damage
- liver damage or failure
- kidney damage or failure
- heart damage
- severe esophageal damage
And if the victim died from his/her injuries, the victim’s family or estate may be able to bring a wrongful death lawsuit.
Note that Paraquat’s black box warning label does warn against acute exposure to the herbicide, such as ingestion by drinking. Paraquat poisoning lawsuits would likely be unsuccessful because the warning label disclaims this risk.
3. What is the current state of the Paraquat litigation?
Nearly 700 Paraquat lawsuits across the United States have been consolidated into an MDL (multi-district litigation) out of the Southern District of Illinois under Judge Nancy Rosenstengel. Hundreds more are expected to join. (MDLs are not class actions because each plaintiff’s lawsuit remains separate in an MDL.)
Starting in 2023, the first of six bellwether cases will go to trial. And the result of these bellwether trials will set the tone for settlement negotiations with the remaining hundreds of MDL plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs in Paraquat lawsuits are alleging some or all of the following five causes of action:
- Design Defect
- Failure to Warn
- Breach of Implied Warranty
- Loss of Consortium2
Note that there are several dozens of Paraquat cases in state courts as well, including California, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Washington.
4. What money can I get from a Paraquat lawsuit?
Personal injury attorneys for Paraquat victims are fighting to recover financial compensation for:
- All medical expenses, including hospital stays, doctor’s visits, medicines, rehabilitation, and home health care;
- Lost wages from being too disabled to work;
- Loss of future earnings from being unable to work; and
- Pain and suffering
5. Can only farmers sue?
No. It is not only farm workers that may develop Parkinson’s disease from the use of Paraquat. Anyone in the general vicinity of farms may also experience Paraquat exposure and its health risks.
Whenever the herbicide is sprayed or crop-dusted, a significant amount drifts to surrounding areas as vapor. This is especially true when farmers overspray.
6. How will the manufacturers fight the lawsuit?
The Paraquat makers are expected to argue that the plaintiffs’ Parkinson’s disease was instead caused by:
- MPTP, a street drug contaminant that causes PD;
- Rotenone, an insecticide that may cause PD; and/or
- Anxiety, which may increase the risk of PD
But all of these arguments can potentially be disproved through the evidence.
The defendants will also argue that Paraquat cannot possibly affect the brain because of the blood-brain barrier. While it is true that brain tissue is largely insulated from the bloodstream, certain critical parts of the brain are vulnerable. These include the postrema, the pineal gland, and parts of the hypothalamus. And there is scientific evidence showing Paraquat in the brain.3
7. What is Paraquat?
Paraquat is an herbicide that commercial farmers use on their crops. It is not a pesticide and not a fungicide. It is used on many types of crops, such as corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, fruits and vegetables, and even tobacco. Paraquat is typically not for residential use.
Paraquat has been sold since the 1960s, and usage has been steadily increasing in recent years.4 This may be because farmers are using less glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, a competitor herbicide that is the subject of extensive litigation).
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies Paraquat as a restricted use chemical that can be purchased and used only by licensed applicators (typically commercial agricultural workers).5
Paraquat is currently banned throughout the European Union and several Asian countries. The companies Dole and Chiquita have also banned using Paraquat.6 Recently the U.S. House of Representatives introduced HR 3817, a bill to ban Paraquat. But it failed to advance.
Three primary manufacturers and distributors of Paraquat products are Chevron USA, Inc., Growmark, and the Chinese-owned, Swiss-headquartered company Syngenta AG (despite Paraquat being banned in Switzerland and China). Syngenta sells Paraquat under the name Gramoxone SL 2.0.
- Increased Reactive Oxygen Species Production in the Brain After Repeated Low-Dose Pesticide Paraquat Exposure in Rats. A Comparison with Peripheral Tissues. Katarzyna Kuter et al., Neurochem. Res. 2010 April 6. Role of Reactive Oxygen Species in the Neurotoxicity of Environmental Agents Implicated in Parkinson’s Disease. Derek A. Drechsel and Manisha Patel, Free Radic. Biol Med. 2008 June 1: 44(11): 1873-1886. Role of oxidative stress in paraquat-induced dopaminergic cell degeneration. Alison L. McCormack et al., J. of Neurochem. 2005; 93: 1030-1037.
- Since 2019 there has been a Paraquat JCCP – which is like a state-level MDL – in Contra Costa, California (JCCP 5031); the case numbers in Contra Costa are C19--00666, C19--00669, C19--00668, C19--00667, and C19--00637, and the case numbers in San Francisco are CGC--19--575011, CGC--19--575004, CGC--19--575007, CGC--19--575010, and CGC--19--575008. There are also federal lawsuits in the Northern District of California (Paul Rakoczy v. Syngenta Crop Protection et al., Case No. 4:21-CV-02083) and the Southern District of Illinois (Michael Joseph Kearns et al. v. Syngenta Crop Protection et al., Case No. 3:21-CV-00278). The first lawsuit against Paraquat regarding Parkinson’s disease was filed in Missouri in 2017.
- Carrier-mediated processes in blood-brain barrier penetration and neural update of Paraquat. K. Shimizu et al., Brain Research. 2001 April 17.
- See Sharon Lerner, The Paraquat Poisoning Problem, The Intercept (March 24, 2021).
- Paraquat Dichloride, EPA.
- Nathan Donley, The USA lags behind other agricultural nations in banning harmful pesticides, Environmental Health (June 7, 2019).