Monsanto Roundup weed killer lawsuits are the biggest mass tort in the country. Lawyers everywhere are looking for potential victims. Our law firm is no exception. Stunning verdicts and talk of a settlement in excess of $8 have poured even more gasoline on the fire. What are these cases about and what can we expect moving forward?
The Crux of the Roundup Litigation
A key ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, has been associated with several cancers, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, hairy cell leukemia, and multiple myeloma.
This concern has caused public outrage by consumers who have been using Roundup for years or even decades. Monsanto vigorously found the possibility that Roundup causes cancer. After Bayer purchased Monsanto, Bayer grabbed the torch of defending the safety of the produce.
Undeterred, lawyers filed thousands of lawsuits from victims who claim Roundup failed to warn of the possible risks with glyphosate and that the chemical ultimately caused their cancer.
In 2016, after cases began to pile up against the company, a federal judiciary panel created a Roundup MDL, which is a “sort of” class action of all of the Roundup cases in federal court. This had the great benefit of allowing plaintiffs’ attorneys to work together to develop the facts and the science behind the glyphosate claims.
The first Roundup verdict came in August 2018 when jurors awarded a plaintiff $289 million in damages. That amount stunned everyone. Immediately, Bayer’s stock plummeted as the company began truly digesting, maybe for the first time, what the litigation exposure they had in these cases.
In February 2019, the first federal court case from the Roundup MDL went to trial and ordered Monsanto to pay out $80 million dollars. Only 3 months later, in May 2019, Monsanto was hit once again when jurors awarded a plaintiff with a staggering $2 billion dollars. Sure, some of these verdicts have been reduced. But the jurors are sending a loud message to Bayer.
Monsanto’s Downward Spiral
The credibility of Monsanto’s “Glyphosate is perfectly safe” mantra has been deteriorating since the early 2000s when scientific research began to be conducted on the safety of glyphosate. In 2003, the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine published an article focusing on a study of 3,400 farmworkers in the Midwest. Their results showed that higher rates of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are associated with glyphosate exposure.
That initial study appeared to slip under the radar. But it wasn’t long until new research began to further expose the company. In 2014, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health released an article where they concluded the active ingredient in pesticides, including glyphosate, had “strong associations” with B cell lymphomas. By 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization (WHO), found that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic” and caused cancer in animals and human cell DNA.
Despite all these publications, Monsanto has been sticking to its claim that Roundup is safe to use. In face of the backlash, Monsanto brought out Dr. Donna Farmer to respond to the media. Dr. Farmer has 20 years of experience studying chemicals at Monsanto. She disagrees to this day with researchers’ findings of Roundup’s cancer risk and denies there ever being conclusive data to support an association. According to her, WHO has been cherry-picking and misinterpreting data used in their studies. Who do you believe, the WHO or Dr. Farmer? The real issue in the legal context is what do jurors believe? Jurors are making their opinions loud and clear with the incredible verdicts they have awarded to victims.
The FDA Defense
One defense Monsanto is using is the fact that the FDA has not pushed back against them. This is a classic drugmaker/medical device manufacturer tactic that Monsanto has predictably jumped aboard in defending these cases. The FDA has credibility with most Americans.
In March 2017, documents were released that showed Monsanto had a suspiciously close relationship with the FDA. The documents suggested that Jess Rowland, a former deputy director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s pesticide program, was willing to get rid of an FDA study that focused on the association between Roundup and cancer. When this detail came to light, Rowland quickly retired. Again, draw your own conclusions.
What Happens Next?
Currently, the manufacturer of Roundup, pharmaceutical giant Bayer, is seeking to settle the cases against them in hopes that they can put this experience behind them and return to usual business. Whether this will work out for them, however, is still unclear. Bayer reportedly offered $8 billion to settle 18,000 pending cases, but the plaintiff’s committee of attorneys seeks $10 billion. But, like asbestos and other cases were the harm is not immediate with exposure, the cases are not going to stop. Additionally, the public outcry against Roundup is only getting stronger. Many won’t be satisfied until Roundup is taken off the market for good.