Last week, paraquat multidistrict litigation (MDL) judge Hon. Nancy Rosenstengel rejected defendants’ efforts to have most claims dismissed based on the argument that the claims should be time-barred by individual states’ statutes of repose. The decision was essentially a defeat for the defense, as it rejected the defense’s primary argument. Judge Rosenstengel’s decision, however, did dismiss some minor claims the plaintiffs had brought.
Paraquat is a widely used herbicide which numerous studies have linked to Parkinson’s disease. Its use is banned in the European Union and many countries. An estimated 10,000,000 pounds of it were used in the United States in 2018.
Plaintiffs in the MDL claim that exposure to paraquat caused them to develop Parkinson’s disease, and hundreds of paraquat lawsuits have been consolidated into the MDL. The plaintiffs claim that paraquat enters the body through ingestion, inhalation or absorption, enters the bloodstream from there, and enters the brain from there. Once in the brain, the plaintiffs allege, paraquat damages and destroys neurons which produce dopamine. Dopamine is critical to the body’s motor function, so when too many dopamine-producing neurons die and dopamine levels fall too low, the brain is no longer able to properly control motor function, leading to the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, according to the plaintiffs.
Numerous epidemiological studies have linked paraquat with Parkinson’s disease, including:
- A 2011 National Institute of Health study found that people exposed to paraquat were 2.5 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than people who weren’t exposed to paraquat.
- A 2014 study found that those sprayed with paraquat were two times as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than the general public.
- A 2017 study linked paraquat exposure with Parkinson’s disease, finding that paraquat exposure could cause DNA damage and weak mitochondrial respiration.
Plaintiffs in the MDL claim that the defendants knew about these studies and paraquat’s relationship with Parkinson’s disease, yet intentionally concealed this information from the public.
Defendants Attempted To Have Claims Dismissed
The defendants in the MDL are Syngenta, the main manufacturer of paraquat, and Chevron, who exclusively distributed paraquat in the United States until 1986. The plaintiffs in the MDL asserted numerous causes of action against the defendants, including strict product liability – failure to warn, strict product liability – design defect, public nuisance, negligence, breach of implied warranty of merchantability, and violation of state consumer protection statutes.
Chevron and Syngenta, in October, filed motions to dismiss which claimed that the majority of the plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed because state statutes of repose time-barred them. The defense claimed this argument applied to plaintiffs in the MDL from Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Connecticut, North Carolina and Indiana.
The defense also attempted to get some of the plaintiffs’ lesser claims dismissed, including their claims for public nuisance, as well as their warranty and consumer protection claims.
Judge Rosenstengel Rejects Statute Of Repose Argument
Statutes of repose place a time limit on the right to file a civil lawsuit. While statutes of limitations in tort cases are measured from the date of injury, statutes of repose are measured from the date of the last omission or culpable act of the defendant. The defendants in the MDL made the argument that statutes of repose bar the plaintiffs’ claims because the defendants’ last omission or culpable act happened years to decades ago.
The plaintiffs responded to this by arguing that statutes of repose in North Carolina, Indiana and Iowa don’t apply to claims involving dangerous chemicals which cause a latent disease.
Judge Rosenstengel agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument, finding that statutes of repose did not apply to the plaintiffs’ claims because the plaintiffs were alleging that their exposure to paraquat caused them to develop Parkinson’s disease, a “latent disease.”
The plaintiffs also argued that statutes of repose in Connecticut, Georgia and Illinois were tolled since the known dangers of paraquat exposure were fraudulently concealed by the defendants. The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants knew or should have known that paraquat could cause Parkinson’s disease, and that individual plaintiffs weren’t aware of this risk because the defendants actively concealed the risks associated with paraquat.
Judge Rosenstengel found that the plaintiffs’ allegations of fraudulent concealment were adequate. She found that the defendants falsely represented paraquat’s safety with the intent to deceive the plaintiffs, and that this false representation prevented the plaintiffs from learning about the fraudulent concealment through exercising ordinary diligence.
The defendants’ attempt to have most of the plaintiffs’ claims dismissed based on statutes of repose was denied in all states by Judge Rosenberg, handing the defendants a clear loss since their statutes of repose argument was their primary argument.
Public Nuisance, Minnesota Consumer Protection Claims Dismissed
The defense attempted to have public nuisance claims asserted by the plaintiffs dismissed, arguing that public nuisance claims can’t be applied to pure product liability cases without an additional element of wrongdoing which causes a public nuisance, such as a chemical manufacturer polluting drinking water.
Judge Rosenstengel agreed with the defendants’ argument, finding that the public nusiance claims were not actions that truly addressed a public nuisance.
The defense also attempted to have multiple state consumer protection claims dismissed. The judge dismissed the Minnesota consumer protection claims, but rejected dismissal of consumer protection claims in other states.