Paraquat Litigation Advances: Daubert Hearing and October Trial Insight
The litigation process involving the herbicide Paraquat advances as key procedural hearings are scheduled. Notably, the legal teams involved have concluded their detailed briefings on two significant motions—the Daubert motion and the motion for partial summary judgment. A Daubert hearing, a critical juncture in the proceedings, is slated to commence on August 21, 2023, where expert testimonies will be pivotal.
- Daubert Hearing and Trial Dates Set: A crucial Daubert hearing for the Paraquat litigation is scheduled to begin on August 21, 2023, with the outcome expected to significantly affect the first bellwether MDL trial due on October 16, 2023. Furthermore, a California state court trial has been rescheduled to January 8, 2024, with pre-trial hearings set for October 10, 2023.
- Expert Witness Testimonies: The court has ordered plaintiffs’ expert Dr. Martin Wells to testify and face both direct and cross-examination in the upcoming Daubert hearing, as per Judge Rosenstengl’s July 28th order, which also allows for post-hearing briefs by September 8th.
- Precedent Settlement: Syngenta and Chevron, in 2021, settled numerous cases in Illinois and 16 cases in California for $187.5 million, which might indicate the potential strength of the plaintiffs’ cases and could influence future litigation outcomes.
- Public Disclosure of Settlement: Details of the previous settlement were made public through Syngenta’s 2021 Annual Report, revealing a strategic move to settle high-profile cases, thereby limiting negative publicity and further large-scale litigations.
- Ongoing Litigation Volume: The litigation encompasses a significant number of cases, with 4,384 active cases in the MDL, 298 in California state courts, and additional actions in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Florida, Washington, and Delaware as of July 20, 2023.
A court filing by the defense on June 9th, the only one not sealed, delineates a strategic stance suggesting that the scientific evidence at hand fails to substantiate the expert causation theories proposed by the plaintiffs.
Presiding Judge Rosenstengl issued a mandate on July 28th requiring the plaintiffs’ expert witness, Dr. Martin Wells, to provide testimony and undergo examination by the legal representatives of both parties. Additionally, the order permits the submission of post-hearing briefs by both sides, to be filed by September 8th at the latest.
The rulings on these motions will have a direct influence on the inaugural bellwether trial of the Multidistrict Litigation (MDL), which is on the court’s docket for October 16, 2023.
The first state court trial in California, initially scheduled for September 6th, has been postponed to January 8, 2024, in Contra Costa County. Pre-trial hearings concerning Sargon motions—California’s equivalent to Daubert hearings—and motions for summary judgment are expected to proceed on October 10, 2023. Syngenta’s Annual Report also indicates a concurrent trial scheduled in a Florida state court for January 8, 2024.
Notably, Syngenta and Chevron, in a strategic move during 2021, settled several Illinois state court cases, including 16 in California, for a total of $187.5 million. This decision, seemingly a preemptive measure, may have been influenced by the desire to limit the exposure of these cases to public scrutiny and to curtail further litigations led by Stephen Tillery, especially in high-profile jury trials in St. Clair County and across Illinois. Based on the disclosed settlement figures by Syngenta, the financial compensation to each plaintiff appears to be substantial, especially if the number of claimants was limited.
This previous settlement bears significant relevance as plaintiffs advance towards the forthcoming trials in October and January.
From Syngenta’s 2021 Annual Report:
“Settlement: On June 1, 2021, Syngenta, along with a co-defendant, reached an agreement to settle with claimants represented by the leading counsel in the Hoffmann cases scheduled for trial in St. Clair County, Illinois, and in a majority of the cases pending in California state courts at that time. The settlement, which was contingent upon the dismissal of all active cases and a comprehensive release from the plaintiffs, involved a payment of $187.5 million by Syngenta. The company allocated its share to the Qualified Settlement Escrow Fund on July 21, 2021, which allows for third-party verification and apportionment amongst the claimants. The incurred settlement expenses are reflected within ‘Other general and administrative’ costs in the financial statements.”
As of July 20, 2023, the MDL has 4,384 active cases pending. Additionally, there are 298 active cases in various California state courts, with 244 consolidated in a Judicial Council Coordination Proceeding (JCCP). Separate actions are also underway in multiple jurisdictions including Pennsylvania, Illinois, Florida, Washington, and Delaware.