Key Court Hearing Wednesday in Bayer Cancer Liability Litigation

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(UPDATED May 18 with pretrial order)

As Bayer AG works to put an end to costly litigation over alleged connections between Roundup herbicide and cancer, the company faces a critical hearing on Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco.

At issue in the hearing is a proposed $2 billion class action settlement structured by Bayer in coordination with a small team of plaintiffs’ lawyers as a means to address potential future lawsuits.

Proponents of the proposed class action plan say it “will save lives,” and provide “speedy compensation” to people who get NHL.

But the plan has generated widespread opposition from law firms around the country who say the proposal actually does little for cancer patients while benefiting Bayer and the lawyers who structured the proposal and who will be paid millions of dollars in fees if the plan goes through.

The class action settlement would apply to people exposed to Roundup products as of Feb. 3, 2021 who have not yet sued Monsanto or retained a lawyer to do so. The settlement plan would set up a framework for addressing new claims brought by those exposed individuals who develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) they attribute to their Roundup exposure.

The class action plan, which is separate from an $11 billion settlement of Roundup litigation announced by Bayer last June to address already filed lawsuits, needs approval from U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria.  A prior class action settlement plan submitted last year was scorned by Chhabria and then withdrawn. The judge has been overseeing the federal multidistrict Roundup litigation involving thousands of plaintiffs from around the United States.

On Tuesday, Judge Chhabria issued a pretrial order stating that Wednesday’s hearing “will focus on big-picture concerns” with the proposed settlement.

Bayer bought Monsanto in 2018 and has been struggling ever since to defend the line of glyphosate-based herbicide products such as Roundup that Bayer inherited in the acquisition. Cancer victims have won three trials held to date and tens of thousands of other plaintiffs have filed lawsuits alleging exposure to Monsanto’s herbicides caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma while Monsanto spent decades hiding the risks.

A “Big Prize”

Likening the class action settlement proposal to a “carnival barker hawking a ‘big prize,’” veteran consumer attorney Gerson Smoger told the court in a recent filing: “This is not merely an unfair deal.  It is a deal designed to allow Monsanto to poison future generations. Monsanto knows it can only do this if it can put shackles on our system of justice. After four attempts, it should be clear that this proposed settlement cannot be remedied. This Court should deny preliminary approval and end this exercise in allowing a corporation to buy its own justice system.”

Smoger is one of more than 160 lawyers from more than 90 law firms who have notified the court they object to the proposed class action settlement, which has been rewritten multiple times already to try to appease objections.

At the heart of the objections is the view that if approved, the class action plan could limit the due process rights of people to go to trial and seek punitive damages awards in the future if they are diagnosed with NHL after Roundup exposure, while allowing Bayer to keep selling Roundup products with no express warning of a cancer risk on the label.

The limiting of plaintiffs’ ability to seek punitive damages while not limiting Bayer’s ability to keep selling Roundup distinguishes this settlement from any similar class action, according to an opposition brief filed by the nonprofit legal group Public Justice. The plan is a “blueprint for how manufacturers can cut off victims’ rights to seek punitive damages from injuries caused by hazardous pesticides, the group said.

“Importantly, there has never been a release of punitive damages in a class action settlement involving a hazardous product that was still on the market. If this Court approves this Settlement, it would be the first time that has ever happened in the history of American jurisprudence,” the Public Justice brief states.

The critics also object to the proposed formation of a science panel designed to provide evidence about whether or not the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides actually are carcinogenic, a four-year stay of future litigation, and many other components of the plan.

Proponents Cite Plan Benefits

The legal team pushing the class action settlement forward, counters that the plan actually is a good thing for people who may develop NHL in the future.

“This settlement will save lives. It will deliver notice, outreach, and information, including on the product label itself, to Roundup users—among them those overlooked by the tort system to date—that they may be at risk and should take action,” the proponents of the plan said in a court filing.

According to the class action settlement proponents, the plan will

  • Alert potential class members to be evaluated for NHL, and provide them diagnostic assistance to do so through a medical-monitoring program
  • Provide an option for “significant and speedy compensation” if a class member gets NHL
  • Provide access to free legal services
  • Fund research into treatment and diagnosis of NHL.
  • Allow class members the right to sue Monsanto for compensatory damages if the class member prefers

Judge Chhabria said in an order issued May 10 that along with hearing from the proponents of the plan, he will allow oral arguments from all those who have filed objections to the plan in Wednesday’s hearing.

In his pretrial order issued May 18, Chhabria said several questions would need to be addressed. Among the questions posed by the judge are these:

  • Why is it in the interest of the class to agree in advance to the admission in future trials of
    the conclusions of a court-appointed independent science panel, given how well the trials
    have been going for plaintiffs without such a panel?
  • If the Court understands the settlement correctly, it binds anyone exposed to Roundup
    before February 3, 2021 (assuming they do not opt out), but contemplates that the
    compensation fund and medical monitoring program can be terminated a few years after
    the settlement is approved. Why would it be in the interest of people exposed to Roundup
    before February 2021 to bind themselves to a fund and program that expires so quickly?
  • Is it appropriate to certify a class for settlement purposes when it is obvious that the class could never be certified for litigation purposes?

Another loss for Bayer over Roundup cancer claims as appeals court shoots down preemption argument

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In a blow to Monsanto owner Bayer AG’s bid to block continued liability over Roundup cancer litigation, a federal appeals court shot down the company’s argument that federal regulatory backing of the company’s herbicides preempts claims made by cancer patient Edwin Hardeman.

In a ruling issued Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of Hardeman, and said Monsanto erred in asserting that the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) preempts state laws and a duty to warn.

The company’s primary hope since losing all three of three trials held to date is to get a U.S. Supreme Court finding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of its products under FIFRA  essentially bars complaints that Monsanto didn’t warn of any cancer risk with its herbicides.

The preemption argument is seen as weak by many legal experts because a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case titled Bates v. Dow Agrosciences established that the EPA’s approval of a product does not rule out claims of a failure to warn brought under state law, and FIFRA expressly states that EPA approval doesn’t constitute an absolute defense.

“It’s a dead duck in the water,” Hardeman lawyer Aimee Wagstaff said of the preemption defense. “They need to let that one go.”

Unanimous verdict

Hardeman won a unanimous jury verdict in March 2019 claiming that exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide products caused his non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He initially was awarded $80 million but the punitive damages were reduced by the trial judge from $75 million to $20 million, leaving him with a total award of approximately $25 million.

The evidence in his case, “showed the carcinogenic risk of glyphosate was knowable at the time of Hardeman’s exposure,” the appeals court ruling states.

The Hardeman case is one of tens of thousands pending against Monsanto for which Bayer is liable after purchasing the company in June of 2018. After Bayer bought Monsanto, four plaintiffs in three trials  won damages against the company. In all, roughly 100,000 U.S. plaintiffs have alleged they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Roundup. The plaintiffs allege that Monsanto knew for years of scientific evidence showing cancer risks associated with its products, but worked to suppress the information to protect its profits.

In his 2019 ruling cutting the award but upholding the jury finding, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria had harsh words for Monsanto, writing: “Despite years of colorable claims in the scientific community that Roundup causes NHL, Monsanto presented minimal evidence suggesting that it was interested in getting to the bottom of those claims… While Monsanto repeatedly intones that it stands by the safety of its product, the evidence at trial painted the picture of a company focused on attacking or undermining the people who raised concerns, to the exclusion of being an objective arbiter of Roundup’s safety.”

Trial pitting farmers against Syngenta delayed until June

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A highly anticipated first-ever trial pitting a group of farmers against the global agricultural giant Syngenta AG over allegations that Syngenta’s paraquat weed killer causes Parkinson’s disease has been delayed until June, the parties involved said on Saturday.

The trial was set to begin Monday, livestreamed by Courtroom View Network, but a continuance was ordered setting a new trial date for June 1. A spokesman for the plaintiffs’ legal team said the delay was not due to any settlement efforts, but due to “a combination of scheduling and Covid issues.”

The case is titled Hoffman V. Syngenta and is set for a bench trial in St. Clair County Circuit Court in Illinois before Associate Judge Kevin Hoerner.

The plaintiffs are farmers who developed Parkinson’s after repeated exposure to paraquat products, specifically Syngenta’s widely used Gramoxone brand, and the spouses of those farmers. Three of the original plaintiffs in the case have died, including plaintiff Thomas Hoffman.

Parkinson’s is a disorder that impacts nerve cells in the brain and  leads in advanced cases to severe physical debilitation and often dementia and death.

Experts in the study and treatment of Parkinson’s warn that the disease is on the rise. One such expert, Dutch neurologist Bastiaan Bloem, predicts the number of people suffering from Parkinson’s will double to more than 13 million in the next 20 years.

Bloem is one of many scientists who blame exposure to paraquat as among multiple risk factors for developing Parkinson’s.

Also named as defendants in the case are Chevron Phillips Chemical Co., formed as a joint venture between Chevron USA and Phillips 66. Chevron helped distribute Syngenta’s products in the United States. Illinois agricultural cooperative Growmark is also a defendant for its role in supplying paraquat products.

There are currently at least 20 lawsuits filed in multiple state and federal courts across the country on behalf of plaintiffs who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and claim Syngenta’s paraquat weed killers are to blame.

Lawyer C. Calvin Warriner III, who is not involved in the Hoffman case but has other plaintiffs suing over the same issues, said he predicts “hundreds if not thousands of cases” will be filed in the next year because of “solid” scientific evidence linking paraquat to Parkinson’s.

Paraquat litigation grows, first trial set for May 10

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Six more lawsuits alleging Syngenta’s weed killing pesticide paraquat causes Parkinson’s Disease were filed last week in Pennsylvania, California and Illinois, adding to more than a dozen similar lawsuits already filed in U.S. courts.

The lawsuits all allege that exposure to paraquat,  which is banned in more than 30 countries though not in the United States, causes the incurable and progressive Parkinson’s disorder that affects nerve cells in the brain, leading in advanced cases to severe physical debilitation and often dementia and death.

Many Parkinson’s experts say the disease can be caused by a range of factors, including exposure to pesticides such as paraquat, as well as other chemicals.

The first trial set to take place in the United States is to begin on May 10 in St. Clair County Circuit Court in Illinois. Missouri lawyer Steve Tillery  is representing the plaintiffs in Hoffman V. Syngenta and said he plans to introduce evidence that includes internal company records showing Syngenta has known for decades that its product causes Parkinson’s Disease.

The defendants in the Hoffman case, as well as the other cases filed, name the Swiss-based Syngenta and Chevron USA as defendants.

Both Chevron and Syngenta deny there is a connection between the disease and the weed killer.

Chevron distributed and sold paraquat products in the United States starting with an agreement with a Syngenta predecessor called Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), which introduced a paraquat-based herbicide called Gramoxone in 1962. Under a license agreement, Chevron had the right to manufacture, use, and sell paraquat formulations in the U.S.

Syngenta says that its paraquat products have been approved as “safe and effective” for more than 50 years and it will “vigorously” defend the lawsuits. Syngenta is owned by China National Chemical Corporation, known as ChemChina.

The complaints were filed on April 30 by a team of law firms: DiCello Levitt Gutzler, Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, P.C. and  Searcy Denney.

Mark DiCello, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys bringing the cases, said Chevron and Syngenta have “long known they were peddling this poison,” and that the science surrounding paraquat “is conclusively on the side of the plaintiffs.”

Jeffrey Goodman, another of the plaintiffs’ attorneys helping bring the litigation said the filings so far are but the “tip of the iceberg” of what he expects to expand into a major mass tort case.

“The manufacturers of paraquat knew for decades that their product was linked to Parkinson’s disease yet chose to hide this information from regulators and the public,” Goodman said.

The newly filed cases are:

The new cases join at least 14 lawsuits filed by eight different law firms in six different federal courts across the country.

Trial lawyers accuse Monsanto, Bayer of “pay-to-appeal scheme,” allege “fraud”

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The lawyers who led the nationwide U.S. Roundup litigation through three trial victories and forced Monsanto owner Bayer AG into an $11 billion settlement have notified a federal court that they have uncovered evidence of fraud in a secret deal between Monsanto and a lone plaintiff’s lawyer who has not been active in the litigation until recently.

In a series of filings made Thursday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, lawyers from three firms involved in the three successful Roundup trials alerted the court to what they said was an effort by Monsanto to “buy” a favorable appellate court ruling.

The agreement between Monsanto and one plaintiff and his attorney is a “pay-to-appeal scheme,” according to plaintiffs’ lawyers Aimee Wagstaff, Brent Wisner and Jennifer Moore.  The legal team asks the court to dismiss the appeal they allege is the focus of the scheme.

The lawyer involved in cutting the deal with Monsanto is Ashleigh Madison of Southeast Law LLC in Savannah, Georgia.  Madison confirmed various terms of the arrangement with Monsanto to Wagstaff’s firm in an email and phone conversations recounted in a declaration, according to the filings made Thursday.

When contacted for comment, Madison denied the allegations and said her client’s best interests are her “top priority.” She said she looks “forward to further addressing the matter before a court of law, as our system of justice intends.”

Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, also said the claims made by Wagstaff, Wisner and Moore are false.  The company issued a statement saying it has been “completely transparent about its desire to appeal Roundup failure-to-warn cases on federal preemption grounds,” and the deal with Madison and her client is “an appropriate path for such an appeal.”

Monsanto has lost all appeals associated with the first case that went to trial, Johnson v. Monsanto, and has appeals pending in the two subsequent trials it lost. Juries in the three trials found the company’s glyphosate-based weed killers such as Roundup caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma suffered by plaintiffs, and that Monsanto failed to warn of the risks.

The company’s primary hope at this point is to get a U.S. Supreme Court finding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of its products, and stance that those products are not likely to cause cancer, essentially bars complaints that Monsanto didn’t warn of any cancer risk with its herbicides. Monsanto is asserting the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) preempts state laws and a duty to warn.

But a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case titled Bates v. Dow Agrosciences established that the EPA’s approval of a product does not rule out claims of a failure to warn brought under state law, and FIFRA expressly states that EPA approval doesn’t constitute an absolute defense. Citing the law and the precedent, more than a dozen federal and state courts have rejected the preemption argument, according to the filing submitted Thursday by the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

If Bayer can force one of the weaker cases to the U.S. Supreme Court and win on preemption, it would thwart the key claims brought by tens of thousands of plaintiffs and likely save Bayer from significant ongoing legal liability costs.

Georgia judge decision

At the heart of the matter is one case, that of Carson v. Monsanto, filed in 2017. The case alleged that plaintiff John Carson developed malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH) from exposure to Roundup. The legal team for the nationwide litigation point out in their filing this week that while there is robust scientific evidence associating Roundup exposure to NHL, there is a lack of scientific evidence associating Roundup to MFH, differentiating the case from the bulk of others filed against the company.

The case languished until Monsanto filed a motion with U.S. District Judge R. Stan Baker in Savannah, Georgia seeking a judgment in its favor on the issue of federal preemption. The district court judge found in favor of Monsanto, agreeing the Carson claim was preempted and the company had no duty to warn of a cancer risk. The judge ruled in favor of Carson, however, on claims that Monsanto was negligent and the design of Roundup products was defective.

Monsanto has since told Carson and his attorney to drop the claims they won on and appeal the preemption ruling they lost, according to the declaration filed by David Wool, a lawyer in the Andrus Wagstaff plaintiffs’ firm.

“Monsanto’s counsel, Martin Calhoun of Hollingsworth LLP, told Madison that Monsanto would never pay her client anything unless he appealed the District Court’s preemption decision – a decision that Monsanto won – and that Monsanto was offering to pay Carson money to appeal the decision,” the declaration states.

Monsanto agreed to pay Carson an undisclosed sum only if he will appeal the decision, according to the new court filing. If he does not drop the claims he won and appeal the preemption matter Monsanto has threatened to make him pay nearly $100,000 in legal fees and costs, according to information turned up by Wagstaff, Wisner and Moore’s law firms.

Carson is required by the deal to appeal only the preemption issue and no other elements of his claims, the legal challenge states:

“While Monsanto’s Civil Appeal Statement suggests it paid Carson to settle his claims not subject to this appeal, in truth, it did no such thing. Payment of the first sum was tied to noticing the appeal, not dismissal of any of Carson’s claims. Carson’s attorney openly admits that Monsanto would never pay Carson unless he appealed the district court’s preemption ruling and corroborated, in writing, that the settlement agreement requires Carson to appeal. If Carson does not appeal, he does not get paid. Indeed, his appeal is so central to getting paid that if he elects to not appeal, he is not only bereft of any settlement, but he is also subject to hefty  liquidated damages. Monsanto is paying Carson to appeal and then threatening him if he does not follow through.

“This appeal should be dismissed—any other result would set a dangerous precedent of appellate review being “for sale” to deep-pocketed litigants. This appeal should be dismissed—any other result would set a dangerous precedent of appellate review being “for sale” to deep-pocketed litigants.”

Allowing the Monsanto-manufactured appeal to go forward “risks turning the justice system on its head by allowing deep-pocketed parties to attempt to broaden the scope of favorable rulings they receive by coercing their adversaries to appeal. This Court’s decisions should not be for sale,” the plaintiffs’ team states in their filing. “This sort of judicial manipulation must be loudly and forcefully rejected.”

Monsanto “ulterior motives”

The declaration filed by Wool recounts conversations with Madison, Carson’s attorney. He states: “On March 15, 2021 I called attorney Ashleigh Madison. During the conversation, Madison confirmed her client’s settlement agreement with Monsanto in the Carson case, and stated that the “first payment” was triggered by filing a notice of appeal.  I expressed my concern that Monsanto had concocted this settlement agreement in an attempt to create favorable appellate law for itself. Madison confirmed that this was her understanding as well, stating that she believed Monsanto had “ulterior motives.”

According to Wool, Madison said her client had only a “very slim chance” of winning the appeal Monsanto was inducing them to file. Still, her client would obtain a “high” value from Monsanto, she told Wool, according to the declaration.

In their letter brief to the court, the trial lawyers said because Carson’s counsel admits that Monsanto is paying Carson to appeal a decision Monsanto won at in order to create appellate precedent, the case “warrants immediate dismissal.”

Litigants “cannot buy appellate review of decisions they won. The Court should reject this attempt to manipulate our judicial system and dismiss the appeal with prejudice because Carson and Monsanto are
deceiving the Court by claiming that an actual case or controversy exists when, in truth, this
appeal was bought and paid for by Monsanto,” they wrote. The Carson agreement “erodes the very foundation of our justice system, which is premised on the principle that opposing parties are actually adversarial—not paying each other to manufacture controversies and seek advisory opinions.”

Bayer said in its statement that the trio of trial lawyers are mischaracterizing the facts.

“Under the settlement, the company agreed to pay Carson $100,000 to drop the surviving design defect claims and to pursue the preemption ruling against him,” Bayer said in the statement. “If he succeeds in the appeal, he gets an additional substantial payment. If Carson drops the appeal, he would simply have to return the $100,000 settlement payment because he would be in breach of its terms. Thus, plaintiffs’ characterization of the $100,000 as a ‘penalty’ in a court filing is completely false, and nothing more than an effort to block this appeal on federal preemption grounds which threatens their interests in this litigation.”

Federal court rejects Syngenta’s bid to toss lawsuit over paraquat herbicide

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A federal judge has denied Swiss chemical company Syngenta’s effort to throw out one of a growing number of lawsuits alleging the company’s weed killing products cause Parkinson’s Disease. The decision offers a boost for the expanding number of law firms and plaintiffs making similar claims.

In an April 12 ruling, U.S. District Judge John Ross in the Eastern District of Missouri denied a motion filed by Syngenta and co-defendant Chevron that sought to dismiss a lawsuit brought by married Missouri couple Henry and Tara Holyfield.

“We were pleased that the court denied the motions to dismiss,” said Steven Crick, an attorney with the firm of Humphrey, Farrington & McClain who is representing the Holyfields. “We are also confident that the defendants’ efforts to dismiss or derail the case will continue.”

The lawsuit alleges Henry Holyfield developed Parkinson’s, a debilitating and incurable progressive nervous system disorder, due to his exposure to paraquat in his work as a crop duster. The suit alleges that paraquat was distributed “without adequate instructions on safe use” and “without instructions or warnings that the paraquat was dangerous to health and life and caused disease.”

Syngenta manufacturers and distributes paraquat-based Gramoxone, a widely used weed killer popular with American farmers but banned in more than 30 countries because it is known to be acutely toxic. Syngenta acknowledges the dangers of accidental poisoning associated with paraquat, and its products carry strict warning labels about precautions needed for safe use.

But the company has denied the validity of scientific research that has found associations between paraquat exposure and Parkinson’s Disease.

Chevron gained sales and distribution rights for Gramoxone paraquat product in the United States in an agreement with a Syngenta predecessor called Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), which introduced paraquat-based Gramoxone in 1962. Under a license agreement, Chevron was granted rights to manufacture, use, and sell paraquat formulations in the U.S.

In their motion to dismiss the case, Syngenta and Chevron argued that the Holyfield claims were preempted by federal law governing regulation of paraquat by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“Paraquat has been heavily regulated by the EPA for decades under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)…” the motion states. “Through decades of scrutiny, the EPA’s judgment continues to be that paraquat is safe for sale and use so long as EPA-prescribed precautions are taken and instructions are followed. To ensure uniformity, FIFRA prohibits states from imposing any labeling requirements “in addition to or different from” FIFRA’s requirements and EPA-approved labels… But that is exactly what the complaint seeks to do.”

Judge Ross said the argument was flawed. FIFRA states that registration approval by the EPA “does not
constitute an absolute defense” to claims that a product was “mislabeled,” he wrote in his decision. Moreover, a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case titled Bates v. Dow Agrosciences established that the EPA’s approval of a product does not rule out claims of a failure to warn brought under state law.

“This Court is aware of no case since Bates in which a court has declined jurisdiction over a FIFRA-related claim pursuant to the doctrine of primary jurisdiction,” the judge wrote in his ruling. “The results of the EPA’s review of paraquat, moreover, will not dictate the success or failure of Plaintiffs’ claims.”

There are currently at least 14 lawsuits filed by eight different law firms in six different federal courts across the country. The lawsuits are all filed on behalf of plaintiffs who have been diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disorder, and they all allege exposure to Syngenta’s paraquat caused their conditions. Several other cases making the same allegations are pending in state courts as well.

Move to consolidate U.S. paraquat litigation as cases mount against Syngenta

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Lawyers suing Swiss chemical company Syngenta are asking a U.S. judicial panel to consolidate more than a dozen similar lawsuits under the oversight of a federal judge in California. The move is a telling sign of the expansion of litigation that alleges the company’s weed killing products cause Parkinson’s Disease.

According to the motion, filed April 7 by the Texas-based Fears Nachawati law firm with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, there are currently at least 14 lawsuits filed by eight different law firms in six different federal courts across the country. The lawsuits are all filed on behalf of plaintiffs who have been diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disorder, and they allege exposure to Syngenta’s weed killers made with a chemical called paraquat for the disease. Several other cases making the same allegations are pending in state courts.

“The cases are excellent candidates for coordinated pretrial proceedings because they arise from the same poisonous toxin causing the same crippling disease resulting from the wrongful conduct of the same three defendants,” the Fears Nachawati brief in support of its motion states. “Movant expects that the number of similar cases filed in state and federal courts across the country will expand rapidly.”

The motion seeks transfer specifically to Judge Edward Chen in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Majed Nachawati, a partner with the Fears Nachawati firm, said the firm was still investigating the size and scope of the overall litigation but believes the paraquat litigation against Syngenta “will be significant and material in nature…”

“Very soon, there is going to be litigation in dozens of federal courts across the country,” Nachawati said.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers will be seeking internal corporate documents as well as depositions of corporate officials related to the “testing, design, labeling, marketing, and safety of paraquat herbicides,” along with corporate research and evaluations of the toxicity and safety of its paraquat products.

The Miller Firm of Virginia, which helped lead the Roundup cancer litigation against Monsanto that resulted in an $11 billion settlement with Monsanto owner Bayer AG, is among the law firms joining in the paraquat litigation. The Miller firm supports the effort to consolidate the federal actions in California, where thousands of Roundup cases were also consolidated for pretrial proceedings, according to the firm’s lead attorney Mike Miller.

“We are confident that science strongly supports the causal connection between paraquat and the devastation of Parkinson’s disease,” Miller said of the motion. “The Northern District of California is well equipped to handle these cases.”

The cases against Syngenta also name Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. as a defendant. Chevron distributed and sold Gramoxone paraquat products in the United States starting with an agreement with a Syngenta predecessor called Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), which introduced paraquat-based Gramoxone in 1962. Under a license agreement, Chevron had the right to manufacture, use, and sell paraquat formulations in the U.S.

Syngenta and Chevron have denied the allegations.

Syngenta says that its paraquat products have been approved as “safe and effective” for more than 50 years and it will “vigorously” defend the lawsuits. Syngenta is owned by China National Chemical Corporation, known as ChemChina.

Scientific studies

Parkinson’s is an incurable progressive disorder that affects nerve cells in the brain, leading in advanced cases to severe physical debilitation and often dementia. Many Parkinson’s experts say the disease can be caused by a range of factors, including exposure to pesticides such as paraquat, as well as other chemicals.

Several scientific studies have linked paraquat to Parkinson’s, including a large study of U.S. farmers jointly overseen by multiple U.S. government agencies. That 2011 research reported that people who used paraquat were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as people who did not use it.

“Numerous epidemiological and animal studies have linked paraquat to Parkinson’s disease,” said Ray Dorsey, a professor of neurology and director of the Center for Human Experimental Therapeutics at University of Rochester in New York. Dorsey is also the author of a book about prevention and treatment of Parkinson’s Disease.

“The evidence linking paraquat to Parkinson’s disease is probably the strongest of any pesticide commonly used,” he said.

Some studies have not found any clear links between paraquat and Parkinson’s and Syngenta asserts that the most recent and authoritative research does not show a connection.

Indeed, a study published in 2020 found connections between some other pesticides and Parkinson’s, but no strong evidence showing paraquat causes the disease.

Upcoming trial

One case filed in a state court is scheduled to go to trial next month. Hoffman V. Syngenta is slated for trial May 10 in St. Clair County Circuit Court in Illinois. A status conference is scheduled for the end of this month.

Missouri lawyer Steve Tillery, who is representing the plaintiffs in the Hoffman case as well as several other plaintiffs in other paraquat lawsuits, said despite Syngenta’s assertions to the contrary, he has accumulated evidence that includes internal company records showing Syngenta has known for decades that its product causes Parkinson’s Disease.

“They shouldn’t be selling this product, said Tillery. “This chemical should be off the market.”

New Roundup cancer trials loom despite Bayer settlement efforts

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Ken Moll is girding for battle.

Moll, a Chicago-based personal injury attorney, has dozens of lawsuits pending against the former Monsanto Co., all alleging the company’s Roundup weed killers cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and he is now preparing several of those cases for trial.

Moll’s firm is one of a handful that have refused settlement offers made by Monsanto owner Bayer AG, deciding instead to take the fight over the safety of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide products back into courtrooms around the country.

Though Bayer has assured investors it is bringing closure to the costly Roundup litigation through settlement deals totaling more than $11 billion, new Roundup cases are still being filed, and notably several are positioned for trial, with the earliest set to start in July.

“We’re going forward,” Moll said. “We’re doing this.”

Moll has lined up many of the same expert witnesses who helped win the three Roundup trials held to date. And he plans to rely heavily on the same internal Monsanto documents that provided shocking revelations of corporate misconduct that led juries to award hefty punitive damages to the plaintiffs in each of those trials.

Trial set for July 19

One case with a trial date looming involves a 70-year-old woman named Donnetta Stephens from Yucaipa, California who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) in 2017 and has suffered from numerous health complications amid multiple rounds of chemotherapy. Stephens was recently granted a trial “preference,” meaning her case has been expedited, after her lawyers informed the court that Stephens is “in a perpetual state of pain,” and losing cognition and memory. The case is set for trial July 19 in San Bernardino County Superior Court in California.

Several other cases have either already been granted preference trial dates, or are seeking trial dates, for elderly people and at least one child suffering from NHL the plaintiffs allege was caused by exposure to Roundup products.

The litigation is not over. It is going to be a continued headache for Bayer and Monsanto,” said Andrew Kirkendall, whose Texas-based firm is helping represent Stephens and other clients seeking speedy trials.

Kirkendall said his firm has lawsuits moving forward to trial in California, Oregon, Missouri, Arkansas and Massachusetts.

This has the potential to be the next asbestos litigation,” he said, referring to decades of lawsuits brought over asbestos-related health problems.

Bayer rejection

Bayer bought Monsanto in June 2018 just as the first Roundup cancer trial was getting underway. Juries in each of the cases that went to trial found that Monsanto’s herbicides do cause cancer and that Monsanto spent decades hiding the risks. Jury awards totaled well over $2 billion, though the judgments have been ordered reduced in the appeals process.

After coming under intense pressure from investors to find a way to cap liability, Bayer announced in June that it had reached a $10 billion settlement to resolve most of more than 100,000 Roundup cancer claims in the United States. Since that time it has been signing deals with law firms around the country, including the firms that have led the litigation since the first suits were filed in 2015. The company is also trying to get court approval for a separate $2 billion plan to try to keep Roundup cancer cases that could be filed in the future from going to trial.

Bayer has been unable to settle with all of the firms with Roundup cancer clients, however. According to multiple plaintiffs’ attorneys, their firms rejected settlement offers because the amounts generally ranged from $10,000 to $50,000 per plaintiff – compensation the attorneys deemed inadequate.

“We said absolutely no,” Moll said.

Another law firm pushing cases forward for trial is the San Diego, California-based Singleton Law Firm, which has roughly 400 Roundup cases pending in Missouri and about 70 in California.

The firm is seeking an expedited trial now for 76-year-old Joseph Mignone, who was diagnosed with NHL in 2019. Mignone completed chemotherapy more than a year ago but also has endured radiation to treat a tumor on his neck, and continues to suffer debilitation, according to the court filing seeking trial preference.

Stories of suffering

There are many stories of suffering within the files of the plaintiffs who are still hoping to get their day in court against Monsanto.

  • Retired FBI agent and college professor John Schafer began using Roundup in 1985 and used the herbicide multiple times during spring, fall and summer months until 2017, according to court records. He did not wear protective clothing until warned by a farmer friend in 2015 to wear gloves. He was diagnosed with NHL in 2018.
  • Sixty-three year-old Randall Seidl applied Roundup over 24 years, including regularly spraying the product around his yard in San Antonio, Texas from approximately 2005 to 2010 and then around property in North Carolina until 2014 when he was diagnosed with NHL, according to court records.
  • Robert Karman applied Roundup products beginning in 1980, generally using a hand-held sprayer to treat weeds on a weekly basis roughly 40 weeks a year, according to court records. Karman was diagnosed with NHL in July 2015 after his primary care doctor discovered a lump in his groin. Karman died in December of that year at the age of 77.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Gerald Singleton said Bayer’s only path to putting the Roundup litigation behind it is to put a clear warning label on its herbicide products, alerting users to the risk of cancer.

“That is the only way this thing is going to be over and done,” he said. Until then, he said, “we’re not going to stop taking cases.”

Bayer’s class action settlement plan draws widespread outrage, opposition

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(Updated March 10 to include judge’s order delaying hearing until May 12)

More than 90 law firms and more than 160 lawyers have notified a federal court judge overseeing U.S. Roundup litigation that they oppose Monsanto owner Bayer AG’s $2 billion plan to settle future claims the company expects to be brought by people diagnosed with cancer they blame on use of Monsanto’s herbicide products.

In recent days, nine separate objections to the plan and four amicus briefs have been filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, letting Judge Vince Chhabria know the extent of opposition to the proposed class settlement. Chhabria has been overseeing thousands of Roundup cancer lawsuits in what is called ‘multidistrict litigation’ (MDL).

On Monday, the National Trial Lawyers (NTL) joined in the opposition on behalf of its 14,000 members. The group said in their filing with the court that they agree with the opposition that “the proposed settlement seriously endangers access to justice for millions of people in the proposed class, would prevent Monsanto’s victims from holding it accountable, and would reward Monsanto in numerous respects.”

The group reiterated in its filing the fear that if Bayer’s proposed settlement is approved, it will set a dangerous precedent for plaintiffs in future, unrelated cases: “It will hurt the proposed class members, not help them. This type of settlement would also provide an untenable template for other corporate tortfeasors to avoid appropriate liability and consequences for their conduct… the proposed class settlement is not how a ‘system of justice’ works and thus such a settlement should never be approved.”

The $2 billion proposed settlement is aimed at future cases and is separate from the $11 billion Bayer has earmarked to settle existing claims brought by people alleging they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) due to exposure to Monsanto’s weed killers. The people impacted by the class settlement proposal are individuals who have been exposed to Roundup products and either already have NHL or may develop NHL in the future, but who have not yet taken steps to file a lawsuit.

No punitive damages

One of the key problems with the Bayer plan, according to critics, is that everyone in the United States who meets the criteria as a potential plaintiff will automatically become part of the class and subject to its provisions if they do not actively opt out of the class within 150 days after Bayer issues notifications of the formation of the class. The notification proposed is not sufficient, the critics say. Moreover, the plan then strips those people – who may not even choose to be a part of the class – from the right to seek punitive damages if they do file a lawsuit.

Another provision garnering criticism is a proposed four-year “standstill” period blocking the filing of new lawsuits.

The critics also object to the proposed formation of a science panel that would act as a “guidepost” for an “extension of compensation options into the future” and to provide evidence about the carcinogenicity – or not – of Bayer’s herbicides.

The initial settlement period would run for at least four years and could be extended after that period.  If Bayer elects not to continue the compensation fund after the initial settlement period, it will pay an additional $200 million as an “end payment” into the compensation fund, the settlement summary states.

Struggling for a solution

Bayer has been struggling to figure out how to put an end to the Roundup cancer litigation since buying Monsanto in 2018. The company lost all three trials held to date and lost the early rounds of appeals seeking to overturn the trial losses.

Juries in each of the three trials found not only that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup cause cancer, but also that Monsanto spent decades hiding the risks.

The small group of lawyers who put the plan together with Bayer say it will “save lives” and will provide “substantial benefits” to people who believe they developed cancer from exposure to the company’s herbicide products.

But that group of lawyers stands to receive $170 million for their work with Bayer to implement the proposed plan, a fact critics say taints their involvement and objectivity. None of the lawyers involved in putting the class action plan together with Bayer actively represented any plaintiffs in the broad Roundup litigation before this point, the critics point out.

In one of the opposition filings, lawyers seeking a rejection of the proposed settlement wrote this:

“This proposed settlement is opposed by those most familiar with the litigation of cases involving dangerous products like Roundup because they recognize that this proposal would benefit Monsanto and class counsel at the expense of the millions of people exposed to Roundup.

“Although this Roundup MDL has been underway for over four years, and other Roundup cases have been litigated in state courts, the impetus for this engineered class action settlement does not come from lawyers who have been handling Roundup cases and believe that an alternative method for resolving them is essential. Instead, the lawyers who are behind this settlement – and it is surely the lawyers and not Roundup victims – are class-action lawyers who seek to impose their views on all those who have been exposed to Roundup, in exchange for a very large fee.

“But an even bigger winner here will be Monsanto, which will get a four-year stay of litigation by class members, who will also lose their right to seek punitive damages and be saddled with the results of an ill-conceived science panel. In exchange, class members will be shunted into an alternate compensation system that features modest payments, increased complexity, and high hurdles to qualify.”

Delay sought

Bayer’s settlement plan was filed with the court on Feb. 3, and must be approved by Judge Chhabria in order to become effective. A prior settlement plan submitted last year was scorned by Chhabria and then withdrawn.

A hearing on the matter was set for March 31 but the attorneys who put the plan together with Bayer have asked Judge Chhabria to delay the hearing until May 13, citing the breadth of the opposition they must address. The judge responded with an order resetting the hearing for May 12.

“These filings totaled more than 300 pages, in addition to more than 400 pages of attached declarations and exhibits,” the lawyers said their request for more time. “The objections and amicus briefs raise a host of issues, including, among other things, the overall fairness of the settlement, multiple constitutional attacks on the settlement and proposed advisory science panel, technical challenges to the notice program, attacks on the fairness of the compensation fund, and challenges to predominance, superiority, and the adequacy of class (and subclass) counsel.”

The lawyers who filed the proposed plan said they could use the additional time before the hearing “to engage with objectors” to “streamline or narrow the issues that need to be contested at the hearing.”

Deaths continue

Amid the arguments over Bayer’s proposed settlement, plaintiffs continue to die. In what is referred to as a “Suggestion of Death,” lawyers for plaintiff Carolina Garces filed a notification with the federal court on March 8 that their client had died.

Several plaintiffs suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma have died since the start of the litigation in 2015.

Bayer’s plan for settling future Roundup cancer claims faces broad opposition

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Dozens of U.S. law firms have formed a coalition to fight a new $2 billion settlement proposal by Monsanto owner Bayer AG that aims to contain the company’s ongoing liability related to claims that Roundup herbicides cause a type of cancer known as non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

The settlement is designed to compensate people who have been exposed to Roundup products and either already have NHL or may develop NHL in the future, but who have not yet taken steps to file a lawsuit.

The small group of lawyers who put the plan together with Bayer say it will “save lives” and provide substantial benefits to people who believe they developed cancer from exposure to the company’s herbicide products.

But many lawyers criticizing the plan say if it is approved it would set a dangerous precedent for other types of litigation involving large numbers of people injured by the products or practices of powerful corporations.

“This is not the direction we want the civil justice system to go,” said attorney Gerald Singleton, whose firm has joined with more than 60 other law firms to oppose Bayer’s plan. “There is no scenario under which this is good for plaintiffs.”

Bayer’s settlement plan was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Feb. 3, and must be approved by U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in order to become effective. A prior settlement plan submitted last year was scorned by Chhabria and then withdrawn. The judge has been overseeing the federal multidistrict Roundup litigation involving thousands of plaintiffs from around the United States.

Responses to the settlement plan are due March 3 and a hearing on the matter is set for March 31.

A key concern is that current Roundup users who may develop cancer and want to sue in the future will automatically be subject to terms of the class settlement unless they officially opt out of the settlement within a specific time period. One of the terms they would be subject to would bar them from seeking punitive damages in any future lawsuit.

Those terms and others laid out are wholly unfair to farm workers and others who are expected to develop cancer in the future from exposure to the company’s herbicide products, according to Singleton. The plan benefits Bayer and provides “blood money” to the four law firms that worked with Bayer to design the plan, he said.

Those firms working with Bayer to draft and administer the plan would receive a proposed $170 million if the plan takes effect.

Elizabeth Cabraser, one of the lawyers who crafted the new proposed settlement, said the criticism is not a fair description of the settlement. In truth, she said, the plan “provides significant and urgently-needed outreach, education, healthcare access, and compensation benefits” for people who have been exposed to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides but have not yet developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

“We seek approval of this settlement because it will save lives and enhance quality of life through early diagnosis, assist people… inform them and raise public awareness about the link between Roundup and NHL…” she said.

A spokesman for Bayer did not respond to a request for comment.

The new proposed settlement is aimed at future cases and is separate from the $11 billion Bayer has earmarked to settle existing U.S. Roundup cancer claims. The people impacted by the class settlement proposal are only individuals who have been exposed to Roundup but are not yet in litigation and have taken no steps toward any litigation.

Bayer has been struggling to figure out how to put an end to the Roundup cancer litigation since buying Monsanto in 2018. The company lost all three trials held to date and lost the early rounds of appeals seeking to overturn the trial losses.

Juries in each of the trials found not only that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer but also that Monsanto spent decades hiding the risks.

Though the proposed settlement states that it “addresses the four concerns the Court raised regarding the prior, withdrawn settlement,” Singleton and other lawyers involved in the opposition said the new settlement proposal is just as bad as the first.

In addition to the concerns that class members would not have the right to seek claims for punitive damages, the critics also object to the four-year “standstill” period blocking the filing of new lawsuits. The critics also say the plan for notifying people of the class settlement is not sufficient. Individuals would have 150 days following the notification to “opt out” of the class. If they do not opt out, they are automatically in the class.

Critics also object to the proposed formation of a science panel that would act as a “guidepost” for an “extension of compensation options into the future” and to provide evidence about the carcinogenicity – or not – of Bayer’s herbicides.  Given Monsanto’s documented history of manipulating scientific findings, the science panel work would be suspect, said Singleton.

The initial settlement period would run for at least four years and could be extended after that period.  If Bayer elects not to continue the compensation fund after the initial settlement period, it will pay an additional $200 million as an “end payment” into the compensation fund, the settlement summary states.

“Substantial compensation” offered

The law firms that drafted the agreement with Bayer said in their filing to the court that the settlement is structured to provide potential future plaintiffs with “what most serves their interests,” including an option for “substantial compensation” if they develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The plan calls for the establishment of a compensation fund to make awards of between $10,000 and $200,000 per individual class member. “Accelerated Payment Awards” of $5,000 would be available on an expedited basis, requiring just a showing of exposure and diagnosis.

Those people first exposed to Roundup products at least 12 months prior to their diagnosis would be qualified for awards. Awards of  more than $200,000 could be made for “extraordinary circumstances.” Those qualified class members who were diagnosed with NHL before January 1, 2015, would not receive awards more than $10,000, according to the plan. 

The settlement would provide free legal advice and provide ”support to assist class members in navigating, registering, and applying for Settlement benefits.”

Additionally, the proposal states that the settlement will fund medical and scientific research into the diagnosis and treatment of NHL.

Notably, the plan states that no one will lose their right to sue unless they choose to accept compensation from the compensation fund, and no one needs to make that choice until that individual class member is diagnosed with NHL. They would not be able to seek punitive damages but could seek other compensation.

“Any class members who do not file a claim and accept individual compensation retain their right to sue Monsanto for compensatory damages on any legal theory, including personal injury, fraud, misrepresentation, negligence, fraudulent concealment, negligent misrepresentation, breach of warranty, false advertising, and violation of any consumer protection or unfair and deceptive acts or practices statute,” the plan states.

To alert people to the class action settlement, notices would be mailed/emailed to 266,000 farms, businesses and organizations and government entities where the company’s herbicides could have been used as well as to 41,000 people who have non-Hodgkin lymphoma and asked to receive information about their disease. Additionally posters would be mailed to 2,700 stores asking them to post notices of the class action settlement.

As part of the proposed settlement, Bayer said it would seek permission from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to add information on the labels of its glyphosate-based products such as Roundup that would provide links to access to scientific studies and other information about glyphosate safety. But critics say providing a website links is inadequate and Bayer needs to put a straightforward warning of cancer risk on the weed killing products.

The proposed class action settlement threatens to affect “hundreds of thousands or even millions” of people who have been exposed to Roundup and “raises ‘unique’ and profound questions” under the U.S. Constitution, according to a court filing in opposition to the Bayer plan made by plaintiffs’ lawyer Elizabeth Graham.

Graham told the court that if the plan is approved it could have a “dramatic effect not only on this litigation, but on the future of mass tort litigation.”

Black farmers

 The National Black Farmers Association (NBFA) weighed in on the issue on Wednesday, submitting a lengthy filing with Chhabria’s court that states a “substantial proportion” of its more than 100,000 members “have been exposed to and potentially injured by Roundup, and its active ingredient glyphosate.”

Many of the farmers have already developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma they blame on Roundup use, and “an even larger proportion fear that they will soon develop symptoms,” the NBFA filing states.

The NBFA wants to see Roundup products removed from commerce or other changes made to protect farmers, the filing states.

The concerns of the NBFA need to be addressed by the court, particularly as Bayer looks to “settle a class action with a set of attorneys who purport to be representing the future interests of all farmers who have been exposed to Roundup but are yet to develop the cancers it causes.”

Lawsuits in Australia

As Bayer works to bring an end to Roundup litigation in the United States, the company is also dealing with similar claims by farmers and others in Australia. A class action filed against Monsanto is underway, and the lead plaintiff John Fenton, who applied Roundup as part of farm work. Fenton was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2008.

A series of key dates have been established: Monsanto has until March 1 to provide discovery documents to plaintiffs’ lawyers and June 4 is the deadline set for the exchange of expert evidence.  The parties are to enter into mediation by July 30 and if nothing is resolved the case would go to trial in March 2022.

Fenton said while he would “love the opportunity” to go to trial and tell his story, he hopes mediation will resolve the matter. “I think the consensus is starting to change thanks to what has been happening in the US. Farmers are more aware and I believe they do take more precautions than they used to.

Fenton said he hopes that Bayer ultimately will put a warning label on Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicides.

“At least with a warning the user can make up their own mind about what PPE (personal protective equipment) they choose to wear.”