An Oakland, California jury on May 13 awarded $2 billion to a Livermore couple who say they have used the non-selective herbicide Roundup for 30 years and blame it for causing their non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The ruling also included $55 million in compensatory damages. It is the third judgment against Monsanto in three tries, despite U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claims that the chemistry is safe when used as labeled.
In March, a San Francisco jury awarded $80 million to a man who blamed his cancer on glyphosate. A $289 million award granted by a California jury last August later was reduced on appeal to $78 million.
Legal experts predict the $2 billion recently awarded to Alva and Alberta Pilliod also will be reduced on appeal.
Due to the size of the award and the number of suits pending in this arena, the latest decision will undoubtedly go through the appeals process, and it is likely Monsanto and parent company Bayer will await that outcome before making any long-term decisions on its defense strategy moving forward, according to a statement from Bayer and the opinion of several legal experts.
At the crux of the glyphosate debate are conflicting reports by the World Health Organization and the EPA. In 2015, the WHO concluded that glyphosate was a "probable" carcinogen. The EPA, on the other hand, has said that there is no evidence indicating that glyphosate causes cancer based on the results of more than 800 tests and studies.
In the past 10 months, juries have sided 3-0 with the WHO findings and ignored the scientific findings of the EPA, which has a specific scientific review process to determine labeling for every chemistry on the U.S. market.
The company says it plans to appeal the recent ruling in the following news statement released May 13: "Bayer is disappointed with the jury's decision and will appeal the verdict in this case, which conflicts directly with the EPA's interim registration review decision released just last month, the consensus among leading health regulators worldwide that glyphosate-based products can be used safely and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic, and the 40 years of extensive scientific research on which their favorable conclusions are based."
It's clear that Bayer needs an all-or-nothing win at the appellate level. The company is hoping that appellate judges will be more sympathetic to the science cited by the EPA than juries have been, and an attorney for the German-based company told Law.com that he believes there is enough science on Bayer's side to eventually beat back the wave of negative PR surrounding this issue.
That will be key moving forward with more than 13,000 other cases against Monsanto pending. The recent $2 billion payday ensures there will be many, many more cases to follow. Because of the growing number of lawsuits involving Roundup, federal multidistrict litigation has been centralized in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
Stock values for Bayer AG have dropped by nearly 23 percent since March and are down by nearly half since the company bought Monsanto for $63 billion last year. The worth of the combined group, according to the Financial Times, is less than what Bayer paid to acquire Monsanto. It was not clear what Bayer's legal defense strategy will be moving forward.
Some legal analysts have suggested this could be heading toward class-action status. The FT says Bayer officials have ruled that out for now and that no such settlement makes sense until the first wave of appeals takes place later this year.
According to Bayer's statement: "The verdict in this trial has no impact on future cases and trials, as each one has its own factual and legal circumstances. Also, this litigation will take some time before it concludes as no case has been subject to appellate review where key legal rulings in the trials will be assessed. The company will continue to evaluate and refine its legal strategies as it moves through the next phase of this litigation, which will be marked by a greater focus on post-trial motions and appellate review and trials scheduled in different venues."
With sympathetic juries ordering awards in the billions, and Bayer (or anyone for that matter) unable to sustain more decisions like the one in Oakland, neither side has much to gain in a rush to the negotiations table.
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