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Plaintiffs’ Lawyer in Roundup Cases Shifts to Syngenta Herbicide

May 18, 2021, 10:15 AM

Aimee Wagstaff, who was selected to serve as national co-lead counsel in litigation against Bayer AG’s Roundup, is now taking on Syngenta AG and its herbicide, paraquat.

“I enjoy helping people battle the biggest corporations in the world. I enjoy the satisfaction in fighting the good fight,” said Wagstaff, partner at Andrus Wagstaff PC in Lakewood, Colo.

Aimee Wagstaff

Numerous complaints have been filed in federal district courts from California to Pennsylvania seeking damages for personal injuries from farmers’ alleged paraquat exposure. The herbicide, used in crops like corn, soy, and cotton, is “highly toxic,” according to a Syngenta fact sheet.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation will hold a hearing on whether to consolidate the paraquat cases May 27.

Like Roundup, which is a glyphosate-based herbicide, paraquat is a weedkiller. Though plaintiffs in the Roundup cases said the product caused cancer, the alleged injury common to all of the paraquat cases is the development of Parkinson’s disease.

Paraquat has been used for decades, but legal complaints are being filed now in part because of the disease’s late onset, Wagstaff said.

“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.

Leading Litigator

Andrus Wagstaff was one of the first law firms involved in the Roundup multidistrict litigation. Bayer, which acquired Monsanto, agreed to pay as much as $11.6 billion to resolve about 125,000 Roundup lawsuits filed by U.S. consumers and farmers. Some of the money is slated for future claims.

“Monsanto fought us every step of the way. They didn’t concede any point at all,” Wagstaff said.

Wagstaff hadn’t been a plaintiffs’ attorney before she became a founding partner at the firm, but the work “fit my interests and my skill set completely,” she said. She was previously an associate working on corporate litigation for a large defense firm.

The majority of her work is focused on multidistrict litigation and Judicial Council Coordinated Proceedings. She has co-led four national litigations so far, according to her firm.

In 2015, she became co-lead counsel of the first majority women multidistrict litigation plaintiffs’ steering committee. The cases were brought on behalf of women who had been diagnosed with permanent injuries, cancer, and other health issues allegedly caused by a medical device used during a hysterectomy or removal of fibroids.

Judge Kathryn H. Vratil, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, appointed Wagstaff.

“It paved the way for future courts to follow that path, which has happened a few times since,” Wagstaff said.

She hopes to one day take over the firm, keeping Andrus Wagstaff’s focus and staff.

“I have a very entrepreneurial spirit,” she said.

Syngenta Defends Paraquat

“Syngenta has great sympathy for the health issues faced by the Plaintiffs and others suffering from the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease. We care deeply about the health and well-being of farmers and are dedicated to providing them with safe and effective products,” Saswato Das, a spokesperson for the company, said in a statement.

“There is no credible evidence that Paraquat, which has been widely used for more than 55 years, causes Parkinson’s disease. No peer reviewed study, including the largest study which involved 38,000 farmers, has ever concluded Paraquat causes Parkinson’s disease,” he said.

The Environmental Protection Agency “and other government authorities have extensively analyzed this issue and similarly found no evidence that Paraquat causes Parkinson’s disease. The facts simply do not support the Plaintiffs’ allegations, and we intend to defend this product and our legal position vigorously in court,” Das said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sylvia Carignan in Washington at scarignan@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com

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