Attorney Sprague takes another aim at Syngenta, this one involves weed killer paraquat

By Record News | Oct 17, 2017

BELLEVILLE – Weed killer paraquat caused a Clinton County man to develop Parkinson’s disease, according to a suit he filed in St. Clair County circuit court 23 days before he died. 

Thomas Hoffmann and wife Diana Hoffmann sued Syngenta Crop Protection and Growmark on Sept. 15, claiming exposure from farming since fifth grade. 

Thomas Hoffmann died on Oct. 8, at age 63, according to online obituaries with the same name carrying details that match details in the suit. 

Attorney Robert Sprague of Belleville filed the complaint for the Hoffmanns. 

Sprague wrote that defendants and predecessors manufactured paraquat, distributed it, and sold it as Gramoxone or by other names since 1964. 

He wrote that farmers commonly use it to control weeds multiple times a year where they plant multiple crops in a single growing season or year. He wrote that application methods inevitably result in spray drift and commonly result in spills, splashes and leaks. 

“That paraquat is toxic to both plant and animal cells, and that its creation of oxidative stress in cells is the source of its toxicity, have been known to science since at least the 1960s,” Sprague wrote. 

“Paraquat is among the handful of toxins that scientists use to produce animal models of Parkinson’s disease.” 

According to the complaint, Thomas was born in 1954. He planted and harvested corn, soybeans and wheat in Clinton and Bond counties. 

The suit states that Thomas and his father purchased paraquat and hired applicators to spray fields from the 1970s to the 1990s.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1998, at age 44. 

Sprague wrote that Hoffmann neither knew nor had any reason to know that paraquat caused his disease or contributed to it until on or about Oct. 7, 2015. 

He wrote that Hoffmann didn’t know and couldn’t have expected that wearing gloves and masks and taking other precautions might have reduced his risk. 

He wrote that Thomas suffered severe and permanent physical pain, anguish, loss of normal life, and loss of income. 

In addition to suing Syngenta Crop Protection, the Hoffmanns sued its Swiss owner, Syngenta AG. 

Sprague cited a federal court precedent that subjected Syngenta AG to personal jurisdiction in Illinois. 

In that case, in 2011, District Judge Phil Gilbert found Syngenta AG exercised an unusually high degree of control over Syngenta Crop Protection. 

Since Gilbert’s ruling, Sprague wrote, the high degree of control has not changed in any material respect. 

As of Oct. 16, Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson had not assigned a judge.

In another pending claim against Syngenta, Sprague and Chicago attorney Joseph Power represent an Illinois woman who claims her son suffered a birth defect due to atrazine in her tap water.

In 2013, Gleeson sealed the case, which remains under seal. Lawyers made the case public a few days after it was sealed in St. Clair County when they filed it as an exhibit in a federal court case that was being litigated in Benton.      

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