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January 24, 2020

St. Louis Roundup trial postponed as large settlement appears near

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Update – Statement from Bayer: “The parties have reached an agreement to continue the Wade case in Missouri Circuit Court for St. Louis. 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 also is no certainty or timetable for a comprehensive resolution.”

The highly anticipated opening of  what would have been a fourth Roundup cancer trial was postponed indefinitely on Friday amid settlement negotiations between Monsanto owner Bayer AG and attorneys representing thousands of people who claim their cancers were caused by exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides.

St. Louis City Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Hogan issued an order stating only “cause continued.” The order came after lead lawyers from the plaintiffs’ firms of New York-based Weitz & Luxenberg and The Miller Firm of Virginia left Hogan’s courtroom unexpectedly shortly before opening statements were due to begin at mid-morning Friday. Sources close to the legal teams initially said opening statements were pushed back until early afternoon to allow for time to see if the plaintiffs’ attorneys and lawyers for Bayer could finalize a resolution that would settle tens of thousands of lawsuits. But by early afternoon the proceedings were called off and it was widely speculated that a deal had been achieved.

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 company’s share prices has been sharply depressed by repeated trial losses and large jury awards against the company in the three trials held to date.

Many more trials were to be held over the next few weeks and months, pressuring Bayer to settle the cases in time to assuage investors at its annual shareholders’ meeting in April.

Bayer officials have confirmed that more than 42,000 plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against Monsanto. But litigation sources say there are now more than 100,000 plaintiffs lined up with claims, though the current total number of actual filed claims is unclear.

The Weitz firm and the Miller firm combined represent the claims of roughly 20,000 plaintiffs, according to sources close to the firms. Mike Miller, who heads the Miller firm, is the lead attorney in the St. Louis trial that had been set to open Friday.

Miller has been a high-profile hold-out in the settlement talks with Bayer as several other lead plaintiffs’ attorneys have already signed on to a deal with the German pharmaceutical giant. Bayer needs to be able to achieve a resolution with a majority of the outstanding claims in order to appease disgruntled investors.

Mediator Ken Feinberg said last week that it was unclear if there could be a global settlement achieved without Miller. Miller was seeking “what he thinks is appropriate compensation,” Feinberg said. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria appointed Feinberg to act as a mediator between Bayer and the plaintiffs’ attorneys last May.

The jury for the St. Louis trial had already been selected and the four plaintiffs and their family members were present Friday morning, lining the front row of the small courtroom.

Monsanto’s lawyers made a bid earlier Friday to block broadcasting of the trial by local television and radio stations but Judge Hogan ruled against the company. Friday’s trial would have been the first to take place in the St. Louis area, where Monsanto was headquartered for more than 100 years.

The first three trials went badly for Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG 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.

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.