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A California jury indicates that Bayer and it’s Monsanto unit should pay more than $2 billion in financial compensation to a husband and wife who were both diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma caused by Roundup, returning a landmark verdict that is intended to punish the manufacturer for withholding information about the cancer risks associated with the controversial weedkiller.
The verdict comes following a trial which lasted nearly two months in Alameda County Superior Court, involving claims brought by Alva and Alberta Pilliod, who were granted an expedited trial date since they are both facing grave health problems associated with their cancer diagnosis.
The Pilliods claimed that they regularly used Roundup on their property for decades, which resulted in each of them developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. While Bayer claimed the couple had a history of illnesses and other health problems that could have caused the cancer, the jury was not convinced by the defense.
After considering evidence about the link between Roundup and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, the jury found that the weedkiller was the cause of each of the plaintiffs’ diagnosis, and awarded $55 million in compensatory damages. An additional $2 billion in punitive damages were awarded, after plaintiffs attorneys urged the jury to award substantial damages to send a message to the manufacturer that their conduct was not acceptable.
The case is one of more than 13,400 Roundup lawsuits faced by Bayer and it’s recently acquired Monsanto unit, each involving similar claims brought by farmers, landscapers, groundskeepers and other consumers diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma following exposure to the glyphosate-based weedkiller.
The verdict marks the third straight jury to find that Roundup was a substantial cause of the plaintiff’s cancer diagnosis, and the third straight massive verdict for failing to warn consumers and regulators about the risks.
In August 2018, another California state court jury returned a verdict of $289 million verdict in the first Roundup trial, which involved claims brought by a former school groundskeeper who is dying from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. That verdict was later upheld by the trial judge, but the punitive damages were reduced, resulting in a final judgment of just over $78 million.
In the federal court system, a “bellwether” trial was held earlier this year, for a case that was widely viewed as favorable for Bayer and Monsanto, since the judge required that the jury first determine whether Roundup could, in fact, cause cancer, before hearing any evidence about the manufacturer’s liability for failure to warn. However, the federal jury returned an $80 million verdict in March, which sent Bayer’s stock price into a downward spiral as investors came to realize the potential liability the company may face.
Following this latest verdict, Bayer issued a statement indicating that the company is disappointed with the jury’s decision, and vowing to appeal the verdict.
The company pointed to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent decision to uphold a prior review that found glyphosate contained in Roundup does not cause cancer. However, that decision has immediately come under attack amid evidence that Monsanto exerted undue influence to protect Roundup from regulation, and indications that Trump administration officials have vowed to protect the pesticide from regulation, regardless of the scientific findings.
While the massive punitive damages award in this latest ruling is sure to be reduced, due to previous Supreme Court rulings that generally limit punitive damages to a 9:1 ratio, at most, the verdict is likely to further increase pressure on Bayer to negotiate Roundup settlements to resolve the litigation.
The company was just recently rebuked by shareholders at its annual meeting over its acquisition of Monsanto and former jurors from previous trials have said that Monsanto’s scientific arguments were weak, and its witnesses appeared unconvincing and even dishonest.
The company is scheduled to face at least three more trials in 2019, including cases in Missouri and Montana state courts.