Since 2017, manufacturers of the highly toxic herbicide paraquat have been dealing with a constant flow of paraquat lawsuits from victims who claim that long-term exposure to the popular weedkiller gave them a slew of serious health problems.
Recent research has supported these claims, linking paraquat to lung, liver and kidney failure, Parkinson’s disease, brain damage, thyroid cancer, and other illnesses.
Ingesting or inhaling significant amounts of paraquat can lead to severe symptoms within hours or days, including nausea and vomiting, stomach pain, muscle weakness, confusion, respiratory failure, mouth and throat pain and dehydration.
More than 50 countries around the world have banned paraquat, but it continues to be available for commercial use in the U.S. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which evaluates the safety of pesticide use every 15 years, states on its website that just one sip of paraquat can be fatal, and there is no antidote.
Yet, in 2021 the agency issued an interim renewal of paraquat with new safety requirements, including limits on aerial applications, a ban on pressurized handguns and backpack sprayers, and a mask mandate for workers. They claimed no link between paraquat and Parkinson’s disease, despite compelling research to the contrary.
When the renewal was announced, Parkinson’s disease advocates like the Michael J. Fox Foundation flooded Congress with emails and phone calls. They submitted a petition with over 100,000 signatures to the EPA. Several environmental and agricultural groups sued the agency, asking California’s Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stop the renewal.
In response to this outcry, the EPA asked the court for a voluntary remand of its decision, which was granted in December 2022. The agency will now reexamine the health evidence against paraquat, which health groups hope will lead to a nationwide ban. This process will include new cost-benefit analyses of paraquat and a public comment period over the next year or so.
Paraquat Lawsuits Continue
Thousands of pending lawsuits against paraquat manufacturers were consolidated into multidistrict litigation (MDL) in June 2021 in the Southern District of Illinois. This means that all pre-trial proceedings will occur in one court under one judge to maximize time and resources.
Six individual cases were then selected from the consolidated group for test, or “bellwether,” trials. These will give all parties an idea of how the remaining trials will play out. The first bellwether trial was initially set for November 2022 but has been delayed until October.
The burden of proof in these trials will fall to the plaintiffs, who must show reasonable evidence that their illness resulted from paraquat exposure. To win these large-scale cases against the aggressive legal teams that paraquat manufacturers retain, plaintiffs will need seasoned trial attorneys with experience in product liability and, ideally, toxic exposure lawsuits.
Finding the Right Paraquat Exposure Attorney
There is no shortage of available law firms, especially for lawsuits filed by hundreds of plaintiffs levying the same allegation against one defendant, as in the paraquat cases. These “mass tort” plaintiffs say that paraquat manufacturers failed to warn consumers that its use increases the risk of Parkinson’s disease. You may have seen or heard advertisements by law firms that take on these cases.
With so many options, knowing how to choose the right attorney for you and your family is essential. The attorney-client relationship is very personal, based on trust and communication. Here are a few things to look for in a potential paraquat lawyer.
Free consultation. During this initial meeting, a good attorney will get to know you and the individual details of your paraquat case. This is like a first date; you’ll learn whether the attorney is a good fit for your case, needs, and personality.
Contingency fees. A reputable personal injury law firm charges nothing upfront; they are only paid if you win your case. The amount is usually a percentage of your final settlement.
Related case experience. Your lawyer should have trial experience and a successful track record in toxic exposure and/or dangerous product liability cases. This will ensure they know what evidence to collect, what expert witnesses to have, and what a fair settlement amount should be.
Easy communication. There should be a way for you to quickly and conveniently contact your attorney or an office representative whenever you have questions, and they should provide regular updates on your case.
Satisfied past clients. Your law firm should be happy to give you a list of clients and a way to contact those who have agreed to act as a reference. You can also look up their names and case numbers in the public court records database.
Do not be afraid to ask your potential paraquat exposure attorney as many questions as you want during your initial consultation and throughout the case. Examples of good questions to ask include:
- How often will I be updated about the case?
- What’s the best way to get in touch with you?
- What do you need from me?
- Will you be the person assigned to my case?
- How much time/resources do you have to dedicate to my case?
- Are you prepared to fight for me in court?
- Do you do pro bono work or give back to your community?
The answers to these questions – and the lawyer’s willingness to answer them thoroughly and honestly – will tell you what you need to confidently make an informed decision on who to trust with your paraquat exposure case.