A San Francisco jury awarded $80.3 million in damages to a California resident determined to have contracted cancer from exposure to Roundup weed killers. The presiding U.S. Federal District Judge Vince Chhabria initially broke down the trial into two phases, which many legal analysts viewed as an advantage to the defendant manufacturer of the Roundup product. However, that is not how the trial turned out.
Phase One of the trial focused solely on presenting scientific evidence on whether Roundup is carcinogenic. Bayer, the successor to Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup, argued that over 800 studies and regulatory decisions stemming from the international scientific community held that Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, is safe and not carcinogenic. Despite putting on significant scientific evidence, the jury found that Monsanto/Bayer knew or should have known of the potential risks and failed to warn consumers. The jury determined that the plaintiff had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that Plaintiff’s exposure to Roundup was a substantial factor in causing him to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This came as a shock to many analysts and investors closely following the trial, who thought a “science-first” approach would pave the way to curtail the floodgates of litigation. However, the San Francisco jury heard competing expert narratives from both sides.
In Phase Two of the trial, the jury had to decide liability and damages. Counsel for Plaintiff put on evidence that highlighted their theme that the company was driven by greed and manipulation. Monsanto/Bayer’s attorneys put on evidence showing that Roundup was very well studied and tested and that Monsanto/Bayer acted reasonably based on the science, and would not have participated in a conspiracy theory to cause cancer. The defense attorneys underscored that between 1970 and 2012, no regulatory agencies said Roundup caused cancer. The defense emphasized that while the World Health Organization (WHO) classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic”, other major regulatory agencies such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have not followed suit. Phase 2 of the litigation posed two distinct questions. “Is Monsanto/Bayer liable for Plaintiff’s injuries?” and if so, “What are the damages?”
The jury was persuaded by Plaintiff’s counsel argument that Monsanto/Bayer “ghost-wrote” scientific studies and influenced regulators. The jury decided that Roundup caused Plaintiffs harm in that the exposure to glyphosate was a “substantial factor” contributing to Plaintiff’s illness. The Judge instructed the jury that they must not be influenced by any personal opinions, prejudices, or sympathies. The jury awarded $200,967.10 in past economic damages and $5 million in past and future non-economic damages. Monsanto was ordered to pay $75 million in punitive damages for its negligence in failing to warn of the herbicide’s cancer risks despite years of published scientific data with far-reaching scientific support showing the contrary.
Judge Chhabria is overseeing hundreds of Roundup lawsuits. This outcome may have set a precedent, as Bayer faces lawsuits from 11,200 similarly situated farmers, home gardeners, and landscapers claiming its glyphosate-based herbicides caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other cancers. Six more trials are due to start this year in state and federal courts. Bayer has publicly stated it is committed to fighting the verdicts on appeal which will most likely take several years before a final appeals decision is issued.
According to the American Cancer Society, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is one of the most common forms of cancer diagnosed each year with an expectation of more than 74,000 diagnoses in 2019 alone. Given the number of cancer victims, and the Plaintiff ‘s bar lackluster attempt to win large verdicts for Non- Hodgkins exposure cases tied to benzene which have been filed throughout the country over the last 5 to 10 years, there is no doubt that this verdict will solidify a long run of new court filings above and beyond those already filed seeking compensation for Non -Hodgkins cancer patients alleging exposure to products containing glyphosate.