Roundup Litigation: Settlement on the Horizon?

Roundup on Store ShelvesMonsanto Company, which was purchased by Bayer in 2018, is facing tens of thousands of lawsuits throughout the country brought by individuals who claim that its popular weed killer, Roundup, caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).  Several cases have gone to trial in California resulting in verdicts for the plaintiffs in the millions and billions of dollars.

The first trial, Johnson v. Monsanto, resulted in a unanimous jury verdict of $289 million dollars for Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, a Benicia, California School District groundskeeper in August 2018.  The jury found that Roundup was a substantial factor in causing Mr. Johnson’s cancer.  The jury also awarded punitive damages against Monsanto for its failure to warn consumers that exposure to Roundup weed killer causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  The jury’s award was later reduced to $78.5 million.

The second Roundup case to go to trial was Hardeman v. Monsanto.  The Hardeman case was the first bellwether trial chosen by Judge Vince Chhabria, who is presiding over the consolidated federal Multi-District Roundup Products Liability Litigation in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.  The result was a unanimous jury verdict of $80 million dollars for the plaintiff in March of 2019.  Judge Chhabria later reduced the judgment to $25 million.

Much like the consolidated federal MDL, the State of California has developed its own consolidated proceeding for handling the hundreds of state court cases involving Roundup.  The Roundup Judicial Coordination Proceedings (JCCP) is pending in the Superior Court for the County of Alameda in Oakland, California with Judge Winifred Smith presiding.

The first Roundup JCCP trial, Pilliod v. Monsanto, resulted in a verdict of $2.055 billion in favor of Mr. and Mrs. Pilliod ($55 million dollars in compensatory damages and $2 billion in punitive damages – $1 billion each for Mr. and Mrs. Pilliod), for failing to warn consumers that exposure to Roundup weed killer causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  The Judge ultimately reduced this judgment to $87 million.

Of course, Monsanto has appealed the judgments rendered in the Johnson, Hardeman, and Pilliod cases.

A fourth trial was set to begin last week in Missouri State Court in St. Louis, involving four plaintiffs led by Christopher Wade.  Like the plaintiffs in the California cases, Mr. Wade and the other plaintiffs claim that Monsanto sold Roundup knowing it was carcinogenic and that the weed killer’s active ingredient, glyphosate, caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and that Monsanto knew of, and covered up, the risks of its product.

More than 10,000 similar claims are currently pending in St. Louis.  Unlike the California cases, the Wade v. Monsanto trial was slated to be a more difficult test for the plaintiffs, since St. Louis is Monsanto’s hometown.  Many of the potential jurors in the Wade trial had close community and financial ties to Monsanto.  Attitudes in St. Louis toward Monsanto are a far cry from those of the jurors in the San Francisco Bay area, where Monsanto and Bayer are considered symbols of big business and corruption.

Within hours after the St. Louis trial was set to begin on January 24, 2020, Bayer said in a statement that the parties have agreed to delay the trial as mediator, Ken Feinberg, tries to broker a deal for tens of thousands of similar claims in the federal MDL.

Bayer issued the following statement on January 24, 2020:

“The continuance is intended to provide room for the parties to continue the mediation process in good faith under the auspices of Ken Feinberg, and avoid the distractions that can arise from trials.  While Bayer is constructively engaged in the mediation process, there is no comprehensive agreement at this time.  There is also no certainty or timetable for a comprehensive resolution.” 

With the next federal court trial scheduled to take place next month, and with additional trials set to follow in St. Louis in March and May of 2020, all eyes are on Ken Feinberg, as he attempts to resolve thousands of pending Roundup cases.