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Roundup Case Selected For First Federal Bellwether Trial in February 2019

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The U.S. District Judge presiding over hundreds of Roundup cancer lawsuits has selected the first bellwether case that will go before a jury in the federal court system, with trial set to begin on February 25, 2019.

While Bayer currently faces more than 9,300 product liability lawsuits filed nationwide by individuals who allege that exposure to Roundup resulted in non-Hodgkins lymphoma or other cancers, about 600 of the cases are centralized in the federal court system before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in the Northern District of California, as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation (MDL).

Judge Chhabria has presided over coordinated discovery into common issues in the claims, and issued rulings on pretrial challenges to the admissibility of expert testimony in the cases earlier this year. After determining that plaintiffs have sufficient evidence to present their claims to juries, a group of “bellwether” cases filed in California federal courts are being prepared for a series of early trial dates in the Roundup MDL.

In a pretrial order (PDF) issued on November 20, Judge Chhabria confirmed that a Roundup case filed by Edward Hardeman will be the first to go forward, indicating that two alternate cases must also be ready for trial to begin by February 25, in the event the Hardeman case settles or does not go forward.

Hardeman filed his complaint (PDF) in February 2016, alleging that his 2015 diagnosis of large B-cell non-Hodgkins lymphoma was caused by Roundup used on his property to control poison oak and weeds since the 1980s.

While the outcome of this trial will not be binding on other Roundup claims, it will be closely watched to help gauge how other juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony permitted under the federal rules.

The trial will be the second to reach a jury in the U.S., after an earlier case brought by a former school groundskeeper diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma went to trial in California state court over the summer. After considering evidence in that claim, a state court jury indicated that Monsanto should be forced to pay $289 million in damages, including punitive damages designed to punish the manufacturer for failing to warn consumers about the cancer risks associated with their widely used weedkiller.

While Monsanto pushed for a new trial given the size of the jury award, the state court judge upheld the verdict with a reduced damage award of $78 million last month.

In addition to the February 2019 trial date before Judge Chhabria in the federal court system, additional cases are set to go to trial in California and Missouri state courts over the next year, including one consolidated trial involving more than a dozen different individuals diagnosed with cancer, who are all expected to go before a Missouri jury in October 2019.

While Bayer has maintained that it intends to defend the cases filed against its Monsanto subsidiary, if the company fails to negotiate Roundup settlements or otherwise resolve the litigation after additional bellwether trials, hundreds of individual trial dates may be scheduled in courts nationwide in the coming years.

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