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Verdicts & Settlements

Monsanto’s Woes Continue as Roundup Verdicts Add Up

— July 17, 2019

Monsanto, maker of weed killer Roundup, continues to face huge verdicts over cancer related to its product. Its woes continue, with over 13,000 cases yet to be heard.

Roundup is a weed killer or herbicide that was first manufactured by Monsanto. The German pharmaceutical giant Bayer acquired Monsanto in a $66 billion merger in 2018. Roundup’s primary active ingredient is isopropylamine salt of glyphosate (ISG). Regardless of the fact that the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified ISG as a probable human carcinogen, regulatory agencies across the globe have concluded that there aren’t any significant risks to human health when Roundup is used as directed. The Center for Biodiversity in California has called Roundup a “probable” human carcinogen, also.

The Cancer Lawsuits Against Monsanto

Dewayne Johnson was a school groundskeeper in Northern California. He brought the first reported Roundup lawsuit against Monsanto. In California state court, Johnson alleged that he developed a deadly form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma after being “drenched” with Monsanto’s Roundup when a sprayer he was using at work broke. In August of 2018, a San Francisco jury agreed that Monsanto failed to warn users of the carcinogenic dangers of Roundup and related products. Johnson was awarded a staggering $289 million. About two months later, the presiding judge reduced that award to $78 million. Johnson has indicated that he would accept $78 million, but the case is now on appeal. Johnson might never live to see a penny of that award.

The Second Verdict

In another San Francisco case, a federal jury awarded Edwin Hardeman $80 million in his Roundup case against Monsanto. He had sprayed Roundup for 30 years at his home and on a 56 acre Santa Rosa property that he owned. Hardeman also developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and the jury in his case determined that Roundup was a substantial factor in his illness. Hardeman’s case revealed that Monsanto had pursued an aggressive public relations plan that strongly criticized negative research results while it was ghostwriting favorable study results for scientists to sign off on. Monsanto has appealed the verdict in Hardeman’s case too.

Lab technician holding Petri dish containing pink fluid; image by Drew Hays, via
Lab technician holding Petri dish containing pink fluid; image by Drew Hays, via

The Latest Verdict

In May of 2019, another California state court Roundup jury in Oakland awarded more than $2 billion to husband and wife, Alva and Alberta Pilliod, who claimed that they had both developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma from Roundup. They had been using it to kill weeds on their property from 1975 to 2011. The jury decided that Roundup’s manufacturer had failed to warn them of the cancer risks associated with the product. Monsanto is now asking for the judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Assuming that the judgment stands, an appeal is highly likely.

Post-Trial Motions and Appeals

To date, the number of Roundup lawsuits across the country is somewhere around 13,500, and the plaintiffs are all awaiting their day in court. The next Roundup trial is scheduled for August 19, 2019. Deadlines for the three appeals in lower court cases that Monsanto has lost are in conflict with preparation for those trial dates. Now, the manufacturer is asking for an extension of time to file its brief in the Johnson case. With 25 offices and more than 800 lawyers worldwide, Monsanto’s lawyers, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner claim that deadlines in other Monsanto cases that the firm is defending are interfering with the briefing schedule set in the Dewayne Johnson case. Those purportedly involve post-trial motions in the Hardeman and Pilliod cases, too. Of course, it was Monsanto’s attorneys who filed the post-trial motions. Given Johnson’s rapidly declining health and terminal diagnosis, the case has been scheduled on an expedited basis. A motion by Monsanto is presently pending to set aside the Hardeman verdict and order a new trial. Hearing on that motion was set for July 2, 2019.

Bayer Wants to Distance Itself

Bayer shares have plunged as much as 44% since the first verdict. Now, in attempting to address public trust, the company is beginning a new marketing initiative that is aimed at separating itself from Monsanto’s conduct. Some Bayer investors are asking the company to consider a global settlement of up to $10 billion. Others are demanding that Bayer’s board chairman step down as a result of the losses it has incurred since merging with Monsanto.

Home Field Advantage?

The next Roundup case against Monsanto is set in St. Louis, the former home of Monsanto before it merged with Bayer. A total of 75 plaintiffs have joined Sharlean Gordon against the company. Gordon was also diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma after having purchased and used Roundup for 15 years. As opposed to the earlier California cases where they were unable to do so, Gordon’s attorneys plan on calling Monsanto executives and scientists as witnesses. Although St. Louis might seem like a friendly venue for Monsanto, the city and the areas surrounding it seem to detest large corporations. Verdicts in and around the area tend to confirm that.

Back to California

The spotlight returns to California after the Gordon trial with Elaine Stevick, who with her husband, bought an old Victorian home on a piece of property that had become overgrown with weeds. She says that she sprayed the property with Roundup several times a year without knowing of the risk of cancer from the product because of Monsanto’s representations that it was safe for use. Stevick also developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma along with several brain tumors. Although she’s now in remission, Stevick underwent two bone marrow transplants and spent a year in a nursing home. She nearly died during treatment.

The presiding judge in the Stevick case has ordered the parties to begin mediation talks that are aimed at disposing all of the more than 13,400 Roundup cases in the United States alone. Monsanto advised that it would comply with the current order, but it wasn’t yet ready to entertain mediation. The St. Louis case could be pivotal for Monsanto because after that, it’s back to California where it’s batting a big fat zero.

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