2020 should bring another interesting year in the Roundup Litigation following three prior verdicts based upon claims that Monsanto’s glyphosate containing Roundup weed killer was the cause of plaintiffs developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Bayer, which acquired Monsanto in 2018, is currently facing more than 42,000 lawsuits over its Roundup products nationwide. Over the last few months, several cases which were scheduled to begin trial have been postponed amidst talk of potential settlement of at least some pending claims. With no official word on any mass settlement, three of the pending suits are scheduled for trial this month: The Wade case in St. Louis, Missouri (where Monsanto was headquartered), and the Caballero and Cotton cases in California, with jury selection scheduled to begin this week in Caballero.

Also in California, including the Caballero and Cotton cases, there are approximately 500 Roundup cases grouped together in the California Roundup Judicial Council Coordination Proceeding (JCCP) being overseen by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith. Earlier this week, Judge Smith denied a plaintiff counsel’s request to order multi-plaintiff trials. Despite agreeing that there “common denominators” in Bayer’s defenses in each case, Judge Smith questioned whether she had authority to require judges in other counties, to whom she will transfer many of these cases, to hold multi-plaintiff trials and rejected arguments that such trials would be in the interest of justice. Judge Smith left open the possibility of revisiting the issue if circumstances changed, but for now cases will proceed to trial individually, assuming a global settlement of all claims isn’t reached.

Is Glyphosate Harmful To Human Health?

In addition to Bayer/Monsanto, two retailers have also been sued based upon claims that they failed to warn of the cancer risks of Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate. Interestingly, despite the onslaught of glyphosate lawsuits, the Environmental Protection Agency has stated that it will not approve “false and misleading” warning labels that say glyphosate causes cancer.

Glyphosate studies have been conducted for years prior to the recent verdicts and the EPA has consistently concluded that glyphosate is not cancer causing and does not pose a risk to human health. Glyphosate, an herbicide, has been registered as a pesticide in the U.S. since coming to market in 1974 and has been assessed several times since by the EPA including undergoing registration review every 15-years as is required of all registered pesticides. In 2015, the EPA initiated another review of glyphosate’s toxicity and in 2016 reported that glyphosate is likely not carcinogenic. Further, during the Pilliod trial the EPA released its Glyphosate Proposed Interim Decision stating that it continues to find that there are no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its label and that glyphosate is not a carcinogen.

The EPA’s position is in contrast to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) conclusion in 2015 that glyphosate , is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” While this statement sparked the glyphosate litigation, additional findings included that, “[f]or the herbicide glyphosate , there was limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma,”.  IARC, which conducted its own analysis of the available epidemiological studies, went on to state that “there is convincing evidence that glyphosate also can cause cancer in laboratory animals.”

The Prior Verdicts

Dewayne Johnson – 289 Million Dollar Verdict

The Dewayne Johnson case, tried in state court in California in 2018, was the seminal glyphosate case in which the jury found that Monsanto’s Roundup and Ranger Pro weed killing products were the cause of Mr. Johnson’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma and awarded Johnson, who mixed and sprayed Roundup as a groundskeeper for a school district in California, $289 million. Following trial the verdict was reduced from $289 million to $78 million. The verdict and the reduction of damages are being appealed and the parties are currently waiting on a date for oral argument.

Alva and Albert Pilliod – 2 Billion Dollar Verdict 

In 2019, a second California jury awarded married couple, Alva and Albert Pilliod, $2 billion dollars based on the couple’s claims that their long-term use of Monsanto’s glyphosate containing Roundup weed killer caused each of them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. That verdict, which was reduced to $87 million dollars, is also being appealed.

Edwin Hardeman – 80 Million Dollar Verdict

Also in 2019, but this time in Federal Court, a jury found Monsanto liable for failing to warn that glyphosate could cause cancer and awarded Hardeman, who used glyphosate-containing Roundup to kill weeds and poison oak on his 56-acre property for more than 25 years, approximately $80 million which included $75 million in punitive damages.  Following the verdict Judge Vince Chabbria, who presided over the trial, stated that Monsanto’s conduct was “reprehensible” but did not warrant the jury’s punitive damage award of 15 times the $5 million compensatory damage award, particularly where there was no evidence that Monsanto intentionally concealed a known or obvious safety risk. He reduced the $75 million punitive damages award to $20 million

We will continue to provide analyses of developments in the Roundup litigation and will be following the Caballero case in Contra Costa County, California, to see if the next trial will get underway this month.

CMBG3 Law LLC has represented clients in products liability matters, especially with respect to allegedly toxic chemicals. We provide the most current legal advice to our clients by staying on top of developments in science, medicine, and regulations regarding a wide variety of substances and products used by consumers every day. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact John Gardella (617-279-8225) or Michaela Lancer (617-279-8216).