Parkinson's disease has officially been linked to exposure to pesticides by a Decree dated 4 May 2012. It did not take long after the enactment of this Decree for the first formal decision recognising that Parkinson's disease is an occupational illness related to the use of pesticides to be handed down. Indeed, it occurred on 14 November 2012.
A judgment dated 13 February 2012 of the Lyon Civil Court is also hugely relevant to those supplying – and working with – pesticides. A farmer had brought an action against a manufacturer to obtain compensation for the loss sustained as a consequence of inhaling herbicide fumes when a treatment tank on a motorised sprayer being cleaned by the claimant was opened. The Court ruled, relying on Article 1147 of the French Civil Code, that the manufacturer had not met its obligation to inform and communicate regarding the conditions of use and precautions to be taken when using the product, even though the label of the herbicide had been approved by the administration at the time when it was placed on the market.
More recently, a new judgment is relevant to the industry. On 11 April 2013, the Vaucluse Social Security Court acknowledged the occupational nature of the Non-Hodgkin's Malignant Lymphoma (NHL) developed by the claimant and ordered the Agricultural Social Mutual Insurance Fund (Mutualité Sociale Agricole – MSA) to cover this illness.
In light of experience relating to asbestos-related litigation, the consequences of this judgment may be very significant – and should not be underestimated.
It is important to note that the claimant, a former employee of an agricultural cooperative for which he tested pesticides, was represented by one of the most active law firms in the representation of people exposed to asbestos. The claimant alleged having been exposed to numerous pesticides during his career; it will be interesting to see whether the claimant launches an action for gross negligence and, if so, in relation to which products.
This judgment has not been appealed by MSA despite the fact that the Court favoured the exhibits produced by the claimant rather than the negative reports of three Regional Committees for the Recognition of Occupational Illnesses (Comité Régional de Reconnaissance des Maladies Professionnelles – CRRMP). This absence of appeal is likely to be interpreted as MSA's implicit acknowledgment that this illness must now be covered by the fund.
The legal fight was the focus of much media attention, and is likely to be relied upon by anti-industrial associations. In fact, the claimant has announced that he is certain that the judgment will set a "precedent". He is probably right, not least because Social Security Courts tend to refer considerably to other judgments when making their decision.
History shows that when the Courts start acknowledging the occupational nature of an illness that is not included in the tables of occupational illnesses, Decrees modifying such tables quickly follow as a consequence of the pressure exercised by anti-industrial associations. These associations are becoming more active and stories of alleged "victims of pesticides" can be readily found online. The number of associations is increasing and the use by them of words such as "contamination" or "poisoning" in relation to exposure to pesticides is abundant. Such words are also used in cases relating to asbestos that arose from isolated judgments by different types of courts; those judgments have enabled associations and their Counsel to present these issues as "public issues" that require the intervention of the State and, failing that, of the Courts.