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Product Liability Claims Arising from Pesticides

Pesticides are chemicals that kill or repel insects, animals, and plants. Farmers use them to prevent damage to crops. People also use them to avoid infestations in buildings and the spread of disease.

While pesticides help deter pests and problematic plants, they can also harm humans. Manufacturers of pesticides must provide consumers with safety warnings. They must also test their products before putting them on the market. They open themselves to civil liability when they fail to do these things.

If you get hurt after using pesticides, you may be able to pursue a lawsuit against the manufacturer or retailer. Your attorney will base your claim on a theory of product liability.

Product Liability Law

As stated above, companies that sell and manufacture pesticides must keep consumers safe. If their product is dangerous, the manufacturer must provide adequate warnings on their packaging.

Many plaintiffs sue pesticide companies when they fail to warn them of potential risks. When you file your lawsuit, your product liability attorney must state the basis for your claim. For example, in the Monsanto lawsuits, plaintiffs alleged that the active ingredient in Roundup caused cancer.

Of course, Roundup is not the only pesticide with dangerous chemicals. Many pesticides contain glyphosate, a potential carcinogen. Use of the product may cause serious injuries.

Pesticide Exposure

Many pesticide claim plaintiffs worked as groundskeepers or lawn care specialists. They use these harmful products daily. But this isn't the only type of exposure.

People come into contact with harmful pesticides in several ways:

  • Home use by landlords, homeowners, neighbors, and landscapers
  • Workplace use (such as when employers treat their offices with pesticides that employees may inhale or touch)
  • Use by government agencies in public parks
  • Drifting pesticide spray or liquid runoff from farms
  • Contaminated groundwater, drinking water, and food products such as fruits and vegetables

Types of Pesticides and Common Symptoms

There are several types of pesticides. Most of them contain three types of chemicals. Exposure to these chemicals can have dangerous health effects. The three main chemicals in these products include the following:

  • Carbamates: Carbamates are found in insecticide sprays. They can cause muscle weakness, blurred vision, headache, nausea, and abdominal pain. They can also cause high blood pressure and nervous system problems.
  • Organophosphates: This is the most common type of insecticide and herbicide. Farmers use organophosphates to kill insects and weeds. These chemicals can cause muscle twitching, headaches, and breathing problems.
  • Pyrethrins/Pyrethroids: These chemicals are in household insect sprays. Exposure to these pesticides can cause skin and eye irritation, headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Severe reactions can include lung fluid buildup, muscle twitching, and seizures.

Product Liability and Pesticides

You may recover damages under product liability law if you use harmful pesticides and get sick. You'll need to prove several things. This is true for almost all defective product cases.

First, you must prove that the pesticide was dangerous and that the defendant failed to warn you of the potential harm. You can do this by showing that the manufacturer didn't warn consumers of their product's possible adverse effects.

Second, you must show that the pesticide manufacturer knew their product would reach consumers. This element should be easy for your attorney to prove.

Finally, you must prove that you suffered an injury. For example, in the Monsanto litigation, plaintiffs argued that Roundup caused cancer and that Monsanto failed to warn them.

The most challenging part of your case is proving causation. You must show a connection between your injuries and the pesticide. Your personal injury attorney may need expert witnesses to do this.

Pesticide Manufacturers' Duty to Warn

Pesticides are dangerous. Pesticide manufacturers must test their products to find out if they may harm humans. The company should identify potential risks once it has the results. They need to share these risks with consumers.

Once manufacturers know their pesticides' health risks, they must include adequate warnings. These warnings must be easy to understand. Consumers must be able to protect themselves from the pesticide's potentially harmful effects.

Manufacturers who don't warn consumers about the risks can be liable for a warning defect.

What Do Federal Agencies Have To Say About Pesticides?

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) governs pesticides' manufacture, sale, and distribution. This law applies to any company that wishes to produce and sell pesticides.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) regulation, manufacturers and distributors of pesticides must do the following:

  • Register their product with the EPA
  • Include a statement on pesticide risks to human health and the environment with the registration
  • Include warnings of any potential harm on pesticide products

These warning labels must allow farmers and consumers to make an informed choice. Pesticide labels must include, among other things, the following:

  • Ingredient statement
  • Warning statement
  • Directions on use

The government will not approve a pesticide if its product label doesn't meet these labeling requirements. Of course, not all pesticide manufacturers follow these rules. Your attorney showing the defendant violated the FIFRA will go a long way toward proving your case.

While FIFRA is the primary federal pesticide regulation, other laws govern these products. For example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibits the use of pesticides in food.

The USDA also works with American farmers to help reduce the pesticide amount entering the soil and runoff water. The goal is to identify pesticide applicators that prevent the loss of pesticide chemicals into the environment.

Are There State Laws on the Manufacture and Sale of Pesticides?

FIFRA applies to the state through federal law. However, there are also state laws governing the sale of pesticides. Usually, if a state passes a law different from the federal law, it would be considered a preemption. However, the states offer more protection than the federal government regarding pesticide laws. Specifically, jurisdictions are allowed to require registration of certain pesticides that are exempt from FIFRA.

Proving a Pesticide Product Liability Case

Most plaintiffs base their pesticide claims on negligence. Negligence is the basis for most tort claims. To prove negligence, the plaintiff must demonstrate the following four things:

  1. The pesticide manufacturer, distributor, or retailer owed the plaintiff a duty of care;
  2. They breached this duty;
  3. The plaintiff suffered harm; and
  4. The defendant's breach of duty caused the damage or injury

With pesticide cases, there is a presumption that the manufacturer has a duty of care. This duty requires that they test their products and warn consumers of any dangers or adverse effects.

The tricky part of proving labeling claims is establishing a breach of duty. The defendant will argue that they did provide adequate warnings. Or they may say that their product doesn't threaten public health. Your attorney must show that this isn't the case.

One way to do this is to have experts and environmental law experts testify about the pesticide's dangers. They can also attest that many others have suffered similar injuries to the plaintiff.

It is worth mentioning that some plaintiffs base their product liability cases on strict liability. The courts reserve this standard for lawsuits where the product is so inherently dangerous there is no way to make it safe.

Pesticide Cases Based on Negligence

One of the first significant pesticide lawsuits against Monsanto happened in 2016. In Hardeman v. Monsanto Co., the plaintiff alleged that the manufacturer's negligence caused their cancer. Specifically, Hardeman argued that the defendant:

  • Failed to test their product (Roundup) adequately
  • Failed to warn consumers of the weed killer's potential dangers
  • Marketed the product as safe (misbranding) when it knew it posed hazards to human health

The plaintiff in another case (In re: Roundup Product Liability Litigation) argued that Monsanto should have shared the results of its testing on humans. Furthermore, the plaintiff alleged that the company never tested the inert ingredients in their weed killer.

In two product liability claims filed against a company called Corteva Inc., the plaintiffs claimed that the manufacturer failed to warn them about their product's dangers to children.

These cases and many others paved the way for multi-district litigation against Monsanto. Dewayne Johnson filed the first federal case against the leading pesticide manufacturer in California. In this case, the jury found that Monsanto was, in fact, negligent and awarded the plaintiff $289 million. This jury award included $250 million in punitive damages. The Supreme Court later reduced Johnson's total judgment to just $78.5 million. But subsequent plaintiffs secured even larger verdicts against Monsanto.

What Makes It Difficult to Win Pesticide Lawsuits?

To bring a pesticide lawsuit, you must overcome two hurdles. First, you must name the chemical that caused your injuries. But it is hard to do this if you use multiple pesticides.

For example, farmers using different pest controls may have trouble identifying which product caused harm. The same is true for factory workers who manufacture several types of chemicals.

Second, you must show a connection between your pesticide use and your illness. Illnesses like cancer can have multiple causes. Plus, your condition may not appear for years after the exposure.

A Product Liability Lawyer Can Help

If you've suffered adverse health effects from pesticide exposure, contact a product liability lawyer to determine your legal options. A lawyer can also help determine if you have other injury cases besides a product liability claim, such as a claim for nuisance or trespass for pesticides drifting onto your property from somewhere else.

Visit Findlaw's product liability attorney directory to find a lawyer near you.

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