Discovery Set to Begin in Roundup Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma Lawsuits

As a growing number of Roundup lawsuits continued to be filed on behalf of individuals nationwide, each indicating that the popular weedkiller caused non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or other cancers, depositions and generic discovery are set to begin next month. 

Since October 2016, all federal product liability cases filed against Monsanto over side effects of Roundup exposure have been consolidated for pretrial proceedings as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, which is centralized before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in the Northern District of California.

As part of the coordinated MDL proceedings, Judge Chhabria has established a bifurcated Roundup discovery process, which will focus on general causation issues during the first phase, including whether the weedkiller is a cancer causing agent.

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In a joint case management statement (PDF) filed on December 16, in advance of a conference held this week, the parties indicate that the first depositions, involving custodians of relevant Monsanto documents, are set to begin on January 11, 2017. However, the parties continue to disagree on some of the details about how the depositions should take place.

While Monsanto wants custodians deposed only once, for both state and federal court cases, plaintiffs’ attorneys appointed to leadership roles in the federal MDL indicate that they can not enter into a stipulation that purports to bind state court litigation, as state court judges have declined to establish similar bifurcated discovery processes.

In addition, Monsanto wants only one interviewer for each deposition, while plaintiffs maintain that multiple interviewers may be necessary, since some attorneys may be more versed in certain areas of the litigation than others. Further, plaintiffs object to Monsanto’s request that the interviewer for the depositions be named three days in advance, saying that work schedules and other issues make such declarations impractical.

The joint statement also responds to calls by Judge Chhabria for a “Science Day” on the link between Roundup and cancer, indicating that the parties agree that the non-adversarial presentations should be held on February 8, 2017. However, the parties disagree on issues involving the exchange of information prior to the hearing, and whether the Court should be closed for the proceeding.

In complex product liability litigation, where a large number of claims have been brought alleging that individuals suffered similar injuries or medical issues as a result of the same product, it is not uncommon for the court to schedule such scientific presentations, which are non-adversarial, and typically not part of the record or subject to cross examination.

Roundup Cancer Lawsuits

Litigation over the risk of non-Hodgkins lymphoma and other cancers from Roundup emerged last year, after the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate contained in the weedkiller is a probable human carcinogen.

The warning sparked world-wide debate about the widespread use of Roundup and other glyphosate-based weedkillers, and raised questions about why Monsanto failed to warn farmers, landscapers, gardeners and other consumers about the potential Roundup risks.

During the first phase of the bifurcated litigation over the next year, the parties will complete generic discovery into causation issues that applies to all claims. The parties will then have an opportunity to argue any dispositive motions on the sufficiency of general causation evidence, before moving onto a case-specific phase of discovery.

Unless Monsanto reaches Roundup settlements or otherwise resolves the litigation following the causation phase, it is expected that Judge Chhabria will establish a bellwether trial program, which will prepare a small group of individual cases for early trial dates to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will likely be brought throughout many cases in the litigation.

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