Lawyer ads surge for paraquat weedkiller claims - X Ante report

A logo is seen at the headquarters of agricultural chemical maker Syngenta in Basel, Switzerland January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

(Reuters) - Television advertising by lawyers seeking plaintiffs with claims over the weedkiller paraquat, sold by Chevron Corp and Syngenta Group, has surged in recent months, according to a report released Wednesday by research firm X Ante.

Lawyers spent $812,280 on paraquat ads in March and April, compared to $160,600 in January and February, a 406% increase, the firm said, citing data provided by advertising analysis company Kantar Media CMAG. The number of ads related to paraquat in that period correspondingly rose 418%, from 1,957 to 10,131.

No other nationwide product liability mass tort showed a comparable rise, though advertising surged by more than 1,000% in terms of spending and more than 2,000% in terms of number of ads for litigation over last winter's Texas power outages.

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The surge in paraquat advertising came in the months leading up to arguments last week before the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation on whether and where to consolidate claims alleging that the weedkiller causes Parkinson's disease. Groups of plaintiffs have sought consolidation in the Northern District of California and Southern District of Illinois, while the defendants have said the Eastern District of Missouri would be a better venue.

Paraquat is banned in many jurisdictions, including China and Europe. Chevron and Syngenta, a subsidiary of ChemChina, deny the allegations.

Some mass torts that previously attracted considerable advertising spending showed declines this year, according to X Ante. Ad spending linked to Bayer's Roundup weedkiller dropped 25% in March and April compared with January and February, from about $1.6 million to $1.3 million, while spending linked to Johnson & Johnson's talcum powder fell 34%, from about $2 million to about $1.3 million.

Spending on ads related to heartburn medication Zantac, which plaintiffs say causes cancer, topped the list in terms of total amount spent – more than $6 million over the first four months of the year. The drug has been sold at different times by Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, Boehringer Ingelheim and Pfizer, which have denied liability.

Zantac spending dipped 26% from the January-February period to the March-April period. However it rose from March to April, according to X Ante, rising 43% from $1.14 million to $1.6 million. Only paraquat spending increased more during that period.

Spending on claims that 3M Co’s military-issue earplugs were defective and led to hearing loss also rose 34% over those two months. However it remained relatively low, with only $69,330 spent in April, despite the multidistrict litigation over the earplugs being the largest in U.S. history.

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Brendan Pierson reports on product liability litigation and on all areas of health care law. He can be reached at brendan.pierson@thomsonreuters.com.