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February 20, 2020

As settlement talks drag on, another Monsanto Roundup trial nears

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Continuing to lack a resolution in the massive nationwide Roundup cancer litigation, a leading U.S. plaintiffs’ law firm is pressing ahead with preparations for a California trial involving a critically ill cancer patient and his wife who are suing the former Monsanto company claiming the man’s disease is due to years of his use of Roundup herbicide.

The Miller Firm, which has about 6,000 Roundup plaintiffs, is now preparing to go to trial against Monsanto’s German owner Bayer AG on May 5 in Marin County Superior Court in California. The case has been granted preference status –  meaning a quick trial date – because plaintiff Victor Berliant is critically ill. A deposition of Berliant is being scheduled for next week.

Berliant, a man in his 70s, has been diagnosed with Stage IV T-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma and is planning to undergo a bone marrow transplant in March after multiple rounds of chemotherapy failed. His lawyers say it is necessary to take his deposition before the transplant as there is a risk he may not survive the procedure or may be otherwise unable to participate at the May trial.

Berliant used Roundup from approximately 1989 to 2017, according to his lawsuit. His wife, Linda Berliant, is also named as a plaintiff, asserting loss of consortium and other damages.

Other cases with trial dates are pending in the St. Louis, Missouri area and in Kansas City,  Missouri, including one case with more than 80 plaintiffs scheduled for trial March 30 in St. Louis City Court. A hearing was supposed to be held today in that case, Seitz v. Monsanto, but was cancelled.

The Miller firm is one of the primary plaintiffs’ firms in the Roundup litigation and caused a stir last month by canceling a St. Louis trial shortly before opening statements were to begin in order to facilitate settlement talks.

The fact that the Miller firm is pressing ahead with more trials underscores the lack of agreement between Bayer and the attorneys for a pool of plaintiffs that some sources say now numbers above 100,000.

Both the Miller firm and the firm of Weitz & Luxenberg, which have close to 20,000 plaintiffs combined, have been at the forefront of negotiations, sources close to the litigation say.

Certain plaintiffs who have agreed to cancel their trials have secured agreements on specific settlement amounts, sources involved in the litigation said, while other parties are said to be discussing deals that are contingent upon the successful completion of a larger overall settlement of the U.S. litigation.

But a comprehensive settlement to put the Roundup claims to rest for the long term remains challenging, sources said. Settling with the current pool of plaintiffs will not protect Bayer from future litigation over Roundup cancer causation claims.

The Wall Street Journal has called the effort to forge a settlement an “extraordinary challenge.” 

Many Bayer investors are hoping for a resolution no later than Bayer’s annual meeting on April 28 in Bonn, Germany.

Numbers of $8 billion-$10 billion have been floated for weeks by litigation sources as a potential settlement total for the mass of cases that has dogged Bayer ever since it bought Monsanto in June of 2018 for $63 billion.

The first three trials went badly for Monsanto and Bayer as outraged juries awarded over $2.3 billion in damages to four plaintiffs. Trial judges lowered the jury awards to a total of roughly $190 million, and all are under appeal but the company’s share prices has been sharply depressed by the repeated trial losses.

The trials have turned a public spotlight on internal Monsanto record  that showed how Monsanto engineered scientific papers proclaiming the safety of its herbicides that falsely appeared to be created solely by independent scientists; used third parties to try to discredit scientists reporting harm with glyphosate herbicides; and collaborated with Environmental Protection Agency officials to protect Monsanto’s position that its products were not cancer-causing.

“The last thing Bayer wants is another bad headline on the Roundup litigation” said Marine Chriqui, a London-based market analyst. “I think it is really important for them not to be in a difficult situation at the time of the meeting. “

Some industry observers suggest that Bayer may continue to settle each case just before trial for many months as appeals play out.

Lawyers for both sides are currently awaiting a date for oral arguments before the appeals court in the case of Johnson v. Monsanto, which was the first to go to trial in the summer of 2018.

Some of the plaintiffs’ attorneys are contemplating making an appearance in Bonn the week of the shareholders’ meeting if a settlement is not achieved, litigation sources said.