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Following a series of massive verdicts in early Roundup lawsuits brought by former users of the controversial weedkiller diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, Bayer’s CEO indicates that the company would now consider “reasonable” settlements to resolve the litigation.
The comments came from Bayer AG Chief Executive Officer Werner Baumann during a conference call with analysts on Tuesday, at which time the company also disclosed that more than 5,000 new Roundup cancer claims have been filed in recent months, bringing the total number of lawsuits the company faces to about 18,400.
Bayer has faced increasing pressure to negotiate Roundup settlements following three straight losses in early bellwether trials, in which juries hammered the company for failing to warn companies about the risk of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
While the company is continuing to appeal each case, the separate trial judges have refused to reverse the verdicts in any of the cases, finding that evidence presented at trial not only supported the jury finding that Roundup caused each plaintiff to develop non-Hodgkins lymphoma, but that the actions of Bayer’s Monsanto unit justified large punitive damage awards, which are designed to punish the company for recklessly disregarding the health and safety of consumers. Even after post trial reductions, final verdicts between $25 million and $87 million have been upheld in each case.
With additional trials scheduled to begin in the coming months, and thousands of additional plaintiffs waiting for trial dates, the company could face hundreds of billions in liability based on prior verdicts, even if it wins half of the future claims.
Baumann has been under fire after Bayer acquired this liability only one year ago, when it purchased Monsanto, which developed Roundup and sold the weedkiller without cancer warnings for decades.
Financial analyst have ranged widely in projecting the amount that Bayer may have to pay to settle the Roundup litigation, and Baumann gave no indication what he would consider “reasonable”. However, since the company has not been able to successfully defend the safety of the product at trial, many expect any Roundup agreement to be one of the largest mass tort settlements in modern history.
In the federal court system, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria has ordered the parties to participate in a mediation process with prominent attorney Ken Feinberg, who has guided settlements in several high-profile litigation in recent years, including funds to pay claims related to the BP oil spill, Volkswagen emissions scandal, General Motors ignition switch recall, September 11th Victim Compensation fund and others.