The trial, titled Hoffman V. Syngenta, is supposed to begin Monday, May 10, at St. Clair County Circuit Court in Illinois before Associate Judge Kevin Hoerner.
There are at least 20 lawsuits alleging Syngenta's weed-killing pesticide paraquat causes Parkinson's disease. The plaintiffs are farmers and their spouses who developed Parkinson's after repeated exposure to paraquat products, specifically Syngenta's widely used Gramoxone brand. Three of the original plaintiffs in the case have died, including plaintiff Thomas Hoffman.
Missouri lawyer Steve Tillery, representing the plaintiffs in Hoffman V. Syngenta, plans to introduce evidence that includes internal company records showing Syngenta has known for decades that its product causes Parkinson's disease.
Six more lawsuits were filed in Pennsylvania, California and Illinois, adding to at least 14 similar lawsuits filed by eight different law firms in six different federal courts across the country. The latest complaints were filed on April 30 by a team of law firms: DiCello Levitt Gutzler, Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, P.C. and Searcy Denney. (Related: Lawsuits piling in against Syngenta over paraquat weed-killer, which causes Parkinson's Disease.)
The lawsuits all allege that exposure to paraquat, which is banned in more than 30 countries but not in the U.S., causes the incurable and progressive Parkinson's disorder that affects nerve cells in the brain.
Mark DiCello, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, said Chevron and Syngenta have "long known they were peddling this poison," and that the science surrounding paraquat "is conclusively on the side of the plaintiffs."
The Swiss-based Syngenta and Chevron USA are the defendants in the Hoffman case, as well as the other cases filed. Both Chevron and Syngenta deny that there is a connection between the disease and the weed-killing pesticide.
Parkinson's disease leads to shaking, stiffness and difficulty with walking, balance and coordination. Parkinson's symptoms usually begin gradually and get worse over time. As the disease progresses, people may have difficulty walking and talking. Advanced cases result to severe physical debilitation and often dementia and death.
Many Parkinson's experts say the disease can be caused by a range of factors, including exposure to pesticides such as paraquat and other chemicals.
One such expert, Dutch neurologist Bastiaan Bloem, predicts the number of people suffering from Parkinson's will double to more than 13 million in the next 20 years. Bloem is one of many scientists who blame exposure to paraquat as among the multiple risk factors for developing Parkinson's.
Chevron distributed and sold paraquat products in the U.S. starting with an agreement with a Syngenta predecessor called Imperial Chemical Industries, which introduced a paraquat-based herbicide called Gramoxone in 1962. Under a license agreement, Chevron had the right to manufacture, use and sell paraquat formulations in the U.S.
Syngenta said in a statement that its paraquat products have been approved as "safe and effective" for more than 50 years and that it will "vigorously" defend the lawsuits. Syngenta is owned by China National Chemical Corporation, known as ChemChina.
Jeffrey Goodman, another one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, said the filings so far are but the "tip of the iceberg" of what he expects to expand into a major mass tort case.
"The manufacturers of paraquat knew for decades that their product was linked to Parkinson's disease yet chose to hide this information from regulators and the public," Goodman said.
Lawyers suing the Swiss chemical company have asked a judicial panel to consolidate the lawsuits under the oversight of a federal judge in California.
According to the motion, filed April 7 by the Texas-based Fears Nachawati law firm with the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, there are currently at least 14 lawsuits in six different federal courts across the country filed on behalf of plaintiffs who have been diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disorder.
Six more similar lawsuits have been filed since.
"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," stated the Fears Nachawati in support of its motion.
The motion seeks transfer specifically to Judge Edward Chen in the 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 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. (Related: International Monsanto Tribunal: Monsanto on trial for crimes against humanity and the environment.)
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. "The Northern District of California is well equipped to handle these cases."
Lawyer C. Calvin Warriner III, who represents one of the plaintiffs, said he predicts "hundreds if not thousands of cases" will be filed in the next year because of "solid" scientific evidence linking paraquat to Parkinson's.
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