Attorneys working for the Frank Guerra, Mauro, Archer and Associates group have been touring several states including Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin looking to add members to the lawsuit, said attorney Jessica Dodd.
“A lot of small farmers think we won’t take them,” she told FeedNavigator. “This is about justice and they were all injured, [so] there is nobody we’re denying anything because they were too small.”
It is estimated that about 50,000 corn farmers along with companies including Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) have already started legal actions against the Switzerland-based seed company, according to law group information.
They are seeking smaller farmers to be involved in the case, said Dodd. Although this aspect of the lawsuits are being run out of Minnesota, the farmers are being set up as individual cases, which is the structure used in a mass tort situation instead of a class action case.
“The problem with a class action is that a nominal amount goes to the farmer,” she added.
The group is seeking damages of $0.30-$1 per bushel for producers who were growing corn for the 2013-15 period, she said.
“The law firm is covering 100% of the expenses so it won’t fall back on the farmers,” said Dodd. If the farm group wins its case then the proceeds would be split 60/40 with 60% going to farmers or producers and the attorney fees come from the 40%, she added.
The case is seeking to hold Syngenta accountable for sales it made of a seed variety called Viptera, according to case details. The corn strain was approved for use in the US, but had not been passed by regulators in China, which was a major US export market.
The lawsuits allege that the sale of the corn resulted in millions in damages to the US market after corn shipments were rejected for containing the unauthorized strain.
Corn shipments containing the unapproved strain were rejected from China in 2013 and 2014.
“There was an injury that occurred,” said Dodd. “For injuries there should be reparations.”
The group started with outreach to some larger corn producers, grain elevators and others involved in the corn market, said Dodd, but now it is trying to make sure smaller farmers are also represented.
Meetings are scheduled through the end of August.
In addition to providing damages for the farmers involved, the case is one way to potentially prevent companies from acting in a similar manner in the future, said Dodd.
“Syngenta did something that caused a collapse in the economy,” she said. “It’s a way of deterring Syngenta or another big company from acting in [a similar] way and it allows farmers the ability to recoup some of their losses [when] they won’t go after Syngenta as an individual.”
“We’ve got the mass of the people, and they will tell Syngenta that they won’t stand for things like this – seed producers need to be responsible when they’re bringing things out in the market,” she said. “Even with 3% of farmers buying and planting the seed the impact is so enormous.”
The group expects its case to wrap up in the next 12-18 months, said Dodd. Already 12 small study cases have been put together for trials that will start in March.
The small trials are set to appear before a judge and jury and give both sides a better understanding of what potential legal reactions may be to the case, she said. Full discovery has been done for the representative cases and a special settlement coordinator also has been established.
All of the test cases may not be litigated depending on how the outcomes are, she said. If all the responses go against the same party there may be a move to settle the case earlier.
“They can settle at any time,” she said. “It’s really a matter of legal strategy to see where the settlement would go during the course of the trials.”