It sounds like an exotic fruit, or perhaps a cute little pet name, but touching or eating paraquat dichloride (paraquat) can result in nasty consequences. This toxic substance has a significant history, but more recently, has been linked to Parkinson’s disease. As a result, the herbicide has been subject to litigation. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at paraquat and the emerging lawsuits.
What Is Paraquat?
Historically, paraquat has had two main uses. First, and sadly, it’s been an effective way of committing suicide. Ingesting just one sip could result in death. In fact, when South Korea banned the herbicide in 2011, its overall suicide rate fell 10% and its suicide rate by herbicide or fungicide dropped by more than 46%.
The second and more mainstream use of paraquat is as an herbicide, usually to kill weeds. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified paraquat as a Restricted Use Pesticide. This means that the EPA knows the herbicide is so dangerous, only individuals with the appropriate license can use it. Paraquat lawfully used in the United must also have the following modifications:
- Adding a special dye to the liquid form of paraquat to prevent confusing it with a beverage.
- Giving it a strong smell to warn people that they are in its vicinity.
- Placing a vomiting agent in the substance to automatically induce vomiting in cases of accidental ingestion.
Paraquat has been very popular as an herbicide because it works on contact, it works quickly and it sometimes works better than other popular alternatives, like herbicides containing glyphosate (such as Roundup). Paraquat’s use has increased lately given the extensive litigation due to glyphosate’s alleged link to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
But now, litigation involving paraquat is growing because of its apparent link to Parkinson’s disease.
Paraquat’s Possible Link to Parkinson’s Disease
The risk of significant, short-term exposure to paraquat has been known for a long time. It’s the long-term effects of less drastic levels of exposure that have been slowly making their way to the general public. However, these aren’t brand new developments and dozens of countries around the world have already banned its use.
For example, a 2009 study mentioned the possible link between Parkinson’s disease and applying paraquat close to residential homes. A 2011 study found that people who used paraquat or rotenone were 2.5 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. And a 2013 meta-analysis looked at 104 studies concerning the link between Parkinson’s disease and pesticide and solvent exposure. It found that exposure to paraquat or maneb was associated with a two-fold increase in the risk of getting Parkinson’s disease.
These are just a few of the studies finding a link between Parkinson’s disease and paraquat. So it’s no surprise that there have been lawsuits alleging that the herbicide has caused people to contract Parkinson’s disease.
The Status of Paraquat Litigation
The first major case concerning paraquat came in 2017, when the plaintiffs alleged the makers, distributors and sellers of paraquat were responsible for their injuries, including Parkinson’s disease. They relied on multiple legal theories, such as:
- Strict product liability – design defect
- Strict product liability – failure to warn
- Public nuisance
- Breach of implied warranty of merchantability
Since then, dozens of lawsuits in both state and federal courts have been filed against Syngenta, Chevron and other companies involved in the sale, manufacture or distribution of the dangerous substance. Due to the unique nature of the injuries many of these plaintiffs have suffered, these cases likely cannot be litigated with a class-action lawsuit.
To help handle these lawsuits in a more efficient manner, they might get consolidated into multi-district litigation, or MDL. In early April, one of the plaintiffs in a federal paraquat case filed a motion to transfer all of the federal lawsuits into an MDL.
If an MDL is created, it won’t happen immediately. Over the next few weeks and months, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation will have a hearing (or two) to decide if an MDL is warranted and if so, how it should be set up. Then once there’s an MDL, it will often take a few years to complete discovery and conduct bellwether trials.
If there are any notable changes in this litigation, I will provide an update. If you were exposed to paraquat, or have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me on this website’s contact page or give me a call at 919.546.8788.