Spalentor City Gate, Basel, Switzerland.

Personal injury cases surrounding the Syngenta-manufactured herbicide Paraquat have been ongoing across the continent in recent years, most alleging that plaintiffs contracted Parkinson’s Disease due to exposure to the chemical.  I set aside discussion of the merits of the various cases (I’m a procedural guy, and only rarely have a chance to get involved in substantive elements of a suit), but a huge story broke this morning in The Guardian that makes me think more suits are likely in the near and long-term future.  (See “Secret files suggest chemical giant feared weedkiller’s link to Parkinson’s disease” and see also the manufacturer’s statement regarding press surrounding the cases, current as of this writing.) 

While I take no position whatsoever on the merits, I do take a position on the procedural requirements involved in these cases: if you have to serve Syngenta at its headquarters in Basel, Switzerland, you absolutely must adhere to the Hague Service Convention and Swiss procedures (see here for a rundown).  And really, it’s not my position– it’s Sandra Day O’Connor’s position.

Of course, many of these claims are wrapped into class actions or a huge MDL, in which waivers are required by defense counsel.  In those situations, where service is rendered unnecessary, Hague strictures don’t apply.  But in state cases and federal suits not consolidated with the larger dockets, the Convention looms large.  Likewise in cases surrounding Syngenta’s various seed products.

For starters, the service documents must be translated into German.  Never mind that an international agribusiness is unquestionably competent in English… the Swiss require translation into the language of the canton where the defendant is served.  In the case of Syngenta, that’s Basel, straddling the Rhine River, and situated just across borders with Saint Louis, France (no, not the one across the state from me) and Weil-am-Rhein, Germany.  Although the Basel airport is actually in France, they don’t speak French in the Swiss part of the area– and they look at you funny if you try (I tried).

Once you have translations in hand, a USM-94 is in order (see here for a how-to guide), followed by duplicate hard copies of everything and a shipment to the Basel-Stadt Court of Appeals.  That court takes care of service from there, usually coming back in two or three months with proof of service.

It’s exceedingly straightforward, but I urge you– do not try to shortcut this procedure.  It’s not valid, under Swiss law or under U.S. or Canadian lex fori, to do it however you please.  The only acceptable way to avoid Hague channels is if defense counsel waives or accepts on this side of the Atlantic.