Parkinson's disease has officially been linked to the exposure to pesticides by a Decree dated 4 May 20121. 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 20122.
The profession has also been shaken by a judgment dated 13 February 2012 of the Lyon Civil Court3. In this case, a farmer had brought an action against a manufacturer to obtain compensation for the loss sustained as a consequence of the inhalation of herbicide fumes at the time of the opening of a treatment tank on a motorised sprayer that the claimant was cleaning. 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 market4.
Today, a new judgment must again worry the industry. Indeed, 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.
Our experience in asbestos-related litigation leads us to believe that the consequences of this judgment must not be underestimated.
Indeed, it ought to be noted 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 he will launch an action for gross negligence and which products will be concerned.
Furthermore, this judgment has not been appealed by MSA despite the fact that it 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 will greatly be interpreted as MSA's implicit acknowledgment that this illness must now be covered.
Such a legal fight that has been the focus of the media these past days will be significantly used by anti-industrial associations. In fact, the claimant himself has announced that he is certain that the judgment will set a "precedent". He is probably right. Indeed, Social Security Courts tend to greatly refer to other judgments when making their decision.
Lastly, history shows that when the Courts start acknowledging the occupational nature of illnesses that are not included in the tables of occupational illnesses, the Decrees modifying these tables quickly follow as a consequence of the pressure exercised by the associations. Indeed, these associations are more and more active and stories of alleged "victims of pesticides" can be found everywhere on the Internet. The number of associations is increasing and the use of words such as "contamination" or "poisoning" is abundant. Yet, these words are also used in cases relating to asbestos that also arose from isolated judgments by different types of courts, which then enable associations and their Counsel to present these issues as public issues that require the intervention of the State and, failing such, of the Courts.