Stop Paraquat Fraud
How we Stop Paraquat Fraud from Legalcalls.com by Attorney Jeff Keiser.
Paraquat is poised for a burst of activity in 2024. We are getting a renewal of interest, and it is no wonder because this is a solid tort that we’ve been working on since 2021.
Here are some best practices we use to stop Paraquat fraud cold without turning away legitimate claimants.
- As with any tort, one of the most important things to ensure high quality is to make sure your intake agents are paid a decent hourly wage and not incentivised/commissioned based on how many people sign up. If you’re using a third party call center or a case acquisition service, be sure to ask them if they pay agents on commission. Most intake departments pay their agents low hourly wages and then make up for it with commissions that are paid based on how many signed retainers they produce. While this makes sense for the company in the short term, it produces very high levels of unqualified claimants. Our extensive training and compensation plan not based on commissions is one of the things that sets Legal Calls apart from the competition.
- A key step that is often overlooked is simply to interview the claimant thoroughly and understand the details of their story. If parts of the story aren’t clear, ask clarifying questions. The intake agent needs to be more like an interviewer or journalist looking for the truth, rather than just a note-taker.
- A key part of qualification is asking follow up questions based on information received from the caller to extend the story and make certain it is clear and complete. Talk to them in depth about the location they purchased the product, how often they used it, for how many years they used it and for what purpose.
- Decline people who can’t give a clear location where they purchased and used the product. Also grounds for DQ is a usage story that misunderstands what Paraquat is and what it is used for. For example, characterization of the product as a “pesticide” is suspicious. If they say they purchase it from a hardware store, then it is an easy DQ as Paraquat isn’t sold at the Home Depot.
- Understand the story of their exposure to Paraquat by asking open-ended non-leading questions and following up until their story is complete and consistent. Quality claimants have a consistent story that makes sense to anyone & we routinely disqualify potential claimants whose story is incomplete or does not pass the common sense test. It’s not enough to just say the right things. Our trained agents know how to get past the superficial and confirm with detailed questions and follow up.
- One common source of confusion is claimants who confuse more common herbicides like Roundup. How do they know it’s Paraquat? Did they see the label? Did it have a particular color or odor? Did their boss tell them? Did the person spraying it tell them? Did the owner of the farm or their supervisor tell them?
- Ask them specifically about exactly when and how they came in contact with Paraquat. If they mixed or sprayed it then that explains their contact. If they didn’t directly mix or spray Paraquat then they need to explain how they had contact. Ask specifically how they were exposed. Did they breathe in the fumes? Did they get it on their skin?
- One person was exposed by working on and repairing spraying machinery. While this was an unusual way to be exposed, it did provide a solid explanation for exposure, and for where the paraquat came from.
- Where did the paraquat come from? Paraquat is only sold in certain places, mainly through licensed (people ) and farm stores.
- If they say they got it from the local Ace hardware of Home Depot then you can disqualify them, since Paraquat is not sold at hardware stores.
- Use needs to be commercial – if they used it at home its nearly always a DQ unless they can very clearly show the source of the chemical.
- Know and understand how PQ is used. Sometimes described as a “chemical lawnmower” It is used to quickly kill everything in the area where it’s sprayed. It’s often used in fields between crops and before planting. So it wouldn’t make sense to spray PQ on food crops to desiccate before harvest, a use more typical of Roundup.
- While paraquat is very toxic when sprayed, it rapidly loses its effect upon contact with the ground and becomes nontoxic. So it wouldn’t make sense for someone to be exposed via the ground or via other plants growing in the same earth where paraquat was sprayed.
- Although PQ is not as well known as Roundup there are still people who may see your ads and try to make up a story that fits. One common story we’ve heard from people is that they were landscapers. Often they mention backpack sprayers. Landscaping is NOT a typical use of Paraquat and it is not typically used in residential or business areas. The only way a landscaping company would make sense is if it was specifically hired to apply Paraquat in a commercial or agricultural setting. If they say they were landscapers, be very careful and dig into their story in detail.
- Verify their medical situation by getting the story behind how they went from symptoms to diagnosis to treatment. Asking what the current status of their treatment is. Cancer is a lifelong condition, even if it is in remission. Legitimate claimants will know this. If someone claims their cancer has been gone for 20 years and they don’t get any check ups for it, this would not be credible. NHL is a treatable disease and it is possible to find people alive decades after diagnosis, but it is a serious disease and you should expect that they’ve received treatment and are likely either still receiving treatment or at the very least they will be receiving regular followup screenings.
- Oftentimes, we will ask for documentation of their Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis and their treatment. While it is not reasonable to expect them to have full medical records on hand, they should be able to show something that backs up their story: a prescription bottle, insurance paperwork, medical bills, etc. People who have been through a serious illness nearly always can show something like this.
- Verify their identity using a service such as Been Verified or Transunion. It’s remarkable how few intake companies complete a simple instant verification of the social security number and date of birth. It’s easy to do and will make pulling medical records that much easier for the law firm.
- Make sure they’re not a TCPA serial litigator. TCPA litigators may fill out your lead form and even though they give permission to be contacted they may sue you anyway, knowing it will cost you more to defend your case than to settle. Simply being compliant is not enough; you need to screen out these bad actors. In addition to screening with the national Do Not Call list, it’s a good idea to use a service like Blacklist Alliance to screen out serial litigators.
- Simply ask them if they’re being truthful or if they might have exaggerated anything and if they’re confident in the information provided. While this can be awkward, honest claimants do not mind.
We’ve asked our fulfillment department to give us their thoughts after having processed and over 1500 paraquat cases; here’s what they had to say:
- Some known commercial applications for Paraquat are now disallowed such as usage along railroad tracks and on oil refineries. The focus is on agricultural use.
- Law firms are requiring more details around use cases, requiring the full address of the location of exposure as well as details surrounding exposure circumstances and purpose.
- Most people don’t have a certified pesticide applicator’s license but rather worked under someone whom they either assumed held the license or knew nothing about license requirements.
- Many claimants we’ve processed did not wear protective clothing or gear while working, often stating they didn’t know handling the product was dangerous at the time and were not given the proper guidance to limit exposure.
- When asked to describe the Paraquat itself, people often point to the green color, powerful smell, and slimy texture.
- The cognitive difficulties associated with Parkinson’s disease are challenging when it comes to the recollection of important facts. Most people do not remember a specific brand other than Paraquat. They also don’t usually recall whether they had a DaT scan, only that they had been through a battery of tests. The vast majority of callers report learning about the connection between PQ and Parkinson’s from television ads. A much smaller subset report that their doctor told them.
- We attempt to learn when each individual symptom started, rather than the symptoms as a whole, but many people are not able to provide that level of detail.
- Additional information often required includes smoking history, military history, current employment status, health insurance information, and SOL (how/when knowledge was gained of the connection).
- Firms have stopped questioning family history of Parkinson’s and have instead shifted their focus to the exposure story.
A thorough and well defined screening process is the key to weeding out those who do not qualify or are just looking for a payout from a highly publicized case. This is the type of process we have created for our clients to protect them from fraud.
Craig H. Alinder, Vice President