‘Tip of the Iceberg’: Six Tort Cases Filed in Pa. and Two Other States Blaming Herbicide for Parkinson’s Disease

A half dozen lawsuits were filed simultaneously in federal court in three states April 30—including Pennsylvania—against the manufacturers and marketers of Paraquat, a herbicide allegedly linked to developing Parkinson’s disease.

Representing the plaintiffs are attorneys from Philadelphia-based Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky; DiCello Levitt in Chicago; and Searcy Denney in West Palm Beach, Florida.

The attorneys are taking on a trio of defendants on behalf of several hundred clients whom one Saltz Mongeluzzi attorney maintains represents “just the tip of the iceberg,” of similar cases to follow, in which Paraquat is being blamed for increasing the risks of getting Parkinson’s disease.

The widely banned agricultural herbicide is a synthetic chemical compound that’s been developed, registered, manufactured, distributed, sold for use and used as an active ingredient in herbicide products since the mid-1960s. These products—mostly used for weed and grass control—are developed, registered, formulated, distributed and sold in the United States, including Pennsylvania, according to the complaints.

In addition to Pennsylvania, California and Illinois are the other states where similar lawsuits have been filed. The plaintiffs are all farmers, according to the attorneys.

The defendants named in all six complaints are Syngenta Crop Protection; Swiss-headquartered Syngenta AG; and Chevron USA Inc., a Pennsylvania-registered corporation.

The half-dozen complaints were jointly filed April 30, which coincided with the final day of Parkinson’s Awareness Month.

The lawsuits include the first cases filed in Pennsylvania federal court from three older couples who contend the manufacturers of Paraquat engaged in a multi-decades-long cover-up of the herbicide’s debilitating effects and link to Parkinson’s disease.

We are honored to file the first Pennsylvania-Paraquat cases to obtain justice for our current and future clients who unknowingly were exposed to this hazardous agricultural chemical—banned in more than 32 countries, among them China and the European Union nations,” said Lawrence R. Cohan, a partner at Saltz Mongeluzzi, who joined the firm last October from Anapol Weiss in Philadelphia to lead the mass tort practice, in a statement from a release dated April 30.

Mark DiCello, of Chicago-based DiCello Levitt and a frequent lead plaintiffs counsel in high-profile multidistrict litigation in a wide range of mass tort and products liability cases, said the April 30 simultaneous filings signal a significant milestone in the rapidly increasing Paraquat-Parkinson’s disease litigation.

DiCello said the makers of Paraquat had long known they “were peddling this poison.”

“They must be held accountable through the American justice system,” added DiCello in the same April 30 release. “Our firms have collectively been retained by several hundred clients to date. We’ll be seeking a leadership seat at the litigation table, and strongly believe the science is conclusively on the side of the plaintiffs.”

Jeffrey P. Goodman, a partner at Saltz Mongeluzzi in Philadelphia, predicted mass lawsuits blaming Paraquat for increasing the risks of getting Parkinson’s disease would soon follow.

These filings are only the tip of the iceberg with what is expected to be the next major mass tort. 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.

Jeffrey P. Goodman

Saltz Mongeluzzi president Robert J. Mongeluzzi will join Goodman and Cohan to round out the firm’s legal team, along with attorneys Josh Cohan and Samuel B. Dordick, according to the same April 30 release.

“We are ready to fight for them,” said co-counsel Cal Warriner, of Florida-based Searcy Denney, of his firm’s clients in the April 30 release. “Our clients need and deserve a strong voice to underscore the injustice they’ve been dealt. To be stricken with such a horrible disease from an innocent work place exposure is very sad.”

Co-counsel on the California cases is Pete Kaufman of Panish Shea & Boyle in Los Angeles— reflecting the complaints’ cross-country representation.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disease of the nervous system marked by tremor, muscular rigidity, and slow, imprecise movement, chiefly affecting middle-aged and elderly people.

The disease is associated with degeneration of the basal ganglia of the brain and a deficiency of the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Parkinson’s often starts with a tremor in one hand. Other symptoms are slow movement, stiffness and loss of balance. Medications can help control the symptoms of Parkinson’s but the disorder is incurable.

In 2011 the National Institutes of Health issued a report on link between Paraquat and Parkinson’s disease.

Among the plaintiffs in the complaints filed in federal court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania are James and Brenda Crane; Stanley and Dessa Copas; and Paul and Luiba Friday, who filed largely identical lawsuits to the ones filed in Illinois and Northern California against the three named defendants.

The Cranes, Copas and Fridays allege the manufacturers and sellers of Paraquat deliberately concealed the dangers of Paraquat for at least four decades, hid evidence of its dangers from government safety agencies, and knowingly unleashed a product they knew caused Parkinson’s disease on an unsuspecting public from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s.

“Today, plaintiff James Crane suffers from Parkinson’s disease caused by many years of regular, frequent, prolonged exposure to Paraquat from defendants’ Paraquat products, and plaintiff Brenda Crane has suffered losses of the services and consortium of plaintiff James Crane as a result of his illness,” reads the 60-page complaint filed by the couple against the defendants.

Goodman at SMB said there have been a few dozen lawsuits filed in federal and state courts across the country and expects many more.

“There is clearly going to be a wave of lawsuits filed in weeks and months ahead,” Goodman said in a phone call on Tuesday, where the National Trial Lawyers Annual Summit in Miami was underway – the first major conference for plaintiffs trial lawyers since COVID hit 14 months ago.

We believe that based upon the clear scientific data that supports the theories of liability and supports the link between Paraquat and Parkinson’s, and also based on the volume of victims that we believe are out there. The wave will be coming quickly.

Jeffrey P. Goodman

Goodman said with Chevron incorporated in Pennsylvania and the Commonwealth being a huge agriculture state, Pennsylvania will be a key battleground.

“We expect that Pennsylvania will be one of the major frontiers in the battle against the Paraquat manufacturers, and we’ll see a considerable amount of the litigation happening in Pennsylvania based upon the connection of Chevron to Pennsylvania,” said Goodman.

To view the six U.S. district court lawsuits against the makers of Paraquat, their case filing numbers are  1) Eastern District of Pennsylvania, No. 2:21-cv-01996-JMY; 2) E.D. Pa. No. 2:21-02013; 3) E.D. Pa. No. 2:1:02016 4) Southern District of Illinois, No. 3:21-cv-00439; 5) Northern District of California, No. 3:21-cv-03233; 6) N.D. Cal., No. 3:21-cv-03229.

Originally published in The Legal Intelligencer

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