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On June 7, 2021, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) established the paraquat MDL in the Southern District of Illinois.

Now, according to a recent case management order, the dates for the first bellwether trials have been pushed back. Originally, they were expected to start in November 2022, but now are expected to begin in July 2023.

Paraquat Litigation Has Grown Over the Past Several Months

Currently, about 1,800 paraquat lawsuits are pending in the Illinois court. All of them raise similar allegations about how paraquat manufacturers failed to warn that long-term use of the herbicide could allegedly increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease.

Though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains that there is not enough evidence to link paraquat to Parkinson’s disease, there have been several scientific studies indicating that long-term exposure to the herbicide can increase the risk.

In 2018, for instance, researchers found that low-level exposure to pesticides like paraquat and maneb disrupted cells in a way that mimicked the effects of mutations known to cause PD. Adding the effects of these chemicals to a predisposition for PD—in individuals at genetic risk for the disease, for instance—increased the risk of disease onset.

As awareness of this and other similar studies increased, more people came forward to file paraquat lawsuits to hold manufacturers liable for negligence and defective design of their products. The MDL court initially set an aggressive schedule in the hopes of holding the first bellwether trial this year, but due to the growing size of the litigation, it has experienced delays.

Paraquat MDL Trial Dates Pushed Back to 2023

Initially, the parties were preparing a group of 16 paraquat lawsuits for early trial. Each party had selected 8 cases earlier this year to contribute to the pool, and then later narrowed that to six total paraquat cases. They were working on preparing these for a series of trial dates set to begin in November 2022.

Early trials in consolidated litigation help the parties gauge how juries may respond to the evidence, and sometimes can help lead to successful settlement negotiations.

On August 17, 2022, however, Judge Rosenstengel issued a case management order that reset the deadlines for discovery and other steps, while pushing back the bellwether trial dates. The previously set trial dates in November 2022, March 2023, and June 2023 are canceled. The judge indicated that the jury trial in the first trial selection case will begin on July 24, 2023.

The court has not yet selected the case that will be the first to go to trial. In a separate case management order issued the same day, Judge Rosenstengel indicated that this first trial will be selected from the pool of six that has already been set aside for early trial proceedings.

The judge added that as the number of cases increases, the Court believes that additional depositions will “assist the Court in gathering more information on Plaintiffs and their claims.” She added that they will also advance more cases in the event “any of the cases already selected for limited or case-specific discovery should, for any reason, lose viability as trial picks.”

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