Paraquat is a highly toxic herbicides still widely used in U.S. commercial agriculture, although 32 other countries have banned its use. It may be used only by individuals who are licensed and specially trained in safety procedures. Paraquat lawsuits generally allege that these procedures and the manufacturers’ warnings are inadequate and that those manufacturers knew or had reason to know of unreasonable health risks associated with the herbicide.
Chronic low-level exposure
Michael Hensgens worked in agriculture for 45 years. As a field representative for G&H Seed, his family’s business for three of those years, he was responsible for checking fields before and after Paraquat was applied. This task involved walking the fields after the herbicide was applied. Hensgens claims that he was exposed to Paraquat:
- when it was mixed, loaded, applied, and/or cleaned;
- as a result of spray drift (the movement of herbicide spray droplets from the target area to an area where herbicide application was not intended, typically by wind); and
- as a result of contact with sprayed plants.
Syngenta continues to maintain that there is no causal connection between Paraquat and Parkinson’s disease:
“There is no credible evidence that paraquat, which has been widely used for more than 55 years, causes Parkinson’s disease,” according to a company statement. “No peer-reviewed study, including the largest study which involved 38,000 farmers, has ever concluded paraquat causes Parkinson’s disease. The (Environmental Protection Agency) and other government authorities have extensively analyzed this issue and similarly found no evidence that paraquat causes Parkinson’s disease.”
There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease; no treatment will stop or reverse its progression, and the treatments most commonly prescribed for its motor symptoms tend to become progressively less effective and to increasingly cause unwelcome side effects, the longer they are used.
Parkinson’s disease also appears to have a very long latency period, and often has a long period when it is asymptomatic. It also generally appears in older people. Where there is the passage of time, there are problems with proving cause.
The central problem that Michael Hensgen’s lawsuit seeks to address is causation. It’s complicated by the nature of the disease. It’s the same issue that other Paraquat lawsuits also face.
The lawsuit, like other Paraquat lawsuits, argues that Hensgens has five bases for financial recovery. The first two, strict products liability for a defectively designed product, and strict liability for failure to warn, advance the related arguments that Paraquat is defectively designed and that the manufacturers should be liable for marketing it, as well as their failure to warn consumers of the hazards associated with it. Strict liability is a “no excuses” argument. It does not matter what mitigation efforts the manufacturers undertook. It was a dangerous product. Period. Stop. Conversation over.
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The fourth count, breach of the implied warranty of merchantability is a common law claim that accuses defendants of introducing a product into the marketplace that was not fit be sold. The fifth count seeks punitive damages as well compensation for the harm that Hensgens suffered because the manufacturers’ conduct was allegedly deceitful and malicious, rather than simply careless.
The counts track closely the arguments advanced in other Paraquat lawsuits. This case is designed for consolidation. We shall see what happens next.