The unofficial start to summer is just a few days away. Thinking back to this time last year, I’m grateful that things are looking up. My family and I are vaccinated and looking forward to safely enjoying the beautiful season ahead with friends and family.
Now that barbecues and bonfires are on the horizon, those of us who have lawns and gardens are already wrangling the situation outside. I’ve gathered that the pandemic has basically put homeowners into two camps: those who used quarantine to revamp their greenspaces, and those who put yardwork on the backburner since no one was around to see it. Either way, it’s impossible to ignore the incessant sounds of mowers and weedwhackers right now. But as we join in on that symphony, it’s important to remember what else we’ve learned from the past year or so. Recent litigation has brought to light the very serious dangers of yard chemicals that are available to everyday consumers.
It started with Roundup, a glyphosate-based herbicide that is the subject of about 125,000 claims connecting its use to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Monsanto, later acquired by Bayer, allegedly knew about the risks of Roundup use yet continued to market it as a safe weedkiller for commercial and backyard use. In 2019, the first federal Roundup case went to trial and a jury awarded Edwin Hardeman $5 million in compensatory damages and $75 million in punitive damages (which was later reduced to $20 million). Recently, Bayer argued that Hardeman’s and similar lawsuits should not go to trial at all – attempting to hang its hat on federal pesticide laws. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld the original judgment and rejected Bayer’s argument, setting a precedent for other cases involving people who developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after using Roundup. Bayer is also trying to get a plan approved to resolve all future claims, but attorneys and consumer groups are fighting back to maintain future plaintiffs’ full rights to sue.
Roundup isn’t an isolated issue, unfortunately. Several complaints have been filed recently in federal district courts over Paraquat, another glyphosate-based herbicide. But unlike Roundup, cases against Paraquat connect its use to Parkinson’s disease. Syngenta, the maker of Paraquat, is standing its ground regarding the lawsuits, arguing that there is no credible evidence of the link. My friend and colleague, Aimee Wagstaff, serves as national co-lead counsel in the Roundup litigation and is now taking on Syngenta as well. She explained to Bloomberg Law that Paraquat cases are only starting to come up now because of the late onset of Parkinson’s disease. “Sometimes the link between exposure and injury takes a while to identify, and then you couple that time with a disease that can sometimes take decades to present itself,” she said.
Both of these products are still on the market. So, as you head to your local garden center to prep for lawn maintenance this summer, it’s important to keep in mind current litigation and to do your research before making a weedkiller-related purchase.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).