After dramatic day-long closing arguments in which the plaintiffs’ attorney suggested $1 billion in punitive damages would be appropriate, jury deliberations were getting underway on Thursday in the trial pitting a married couple with cancer against Monsanto.
Alva and Alberta Pilliod, each diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, were in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, California, on Wednesday as attorney Brent Wisner implored jurors to agree with allegations that the development of the Pilliods’ debilitating illnesses was due to their many years of use of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides.
Monsanto strongly denies its products are carcinogenic. But Pilliod attorney Brent Wisner told jurors there was ample evidence of cancer concerns and rather than warn customers of the risks, the company engaged in 45 years of deceptive tactics that manipulated the scientific record about the dangers of its products.
He said jurors should consider ordering at least $892 million in punitive damages as that represented one year of profits for Monsanto, which last year was acquired by Bayer AG. He said a better figure might be $1 billion in order to send a message to Bayer and Monsanto. Additionally, he asked for approximately $37 million in compensatory damages for Alberta Pilliod and $18 million for Alva Pilliod.
“Hold them accountable,” Wisner told jurors in a three-hour closing argument. During his presentation to jurors, Wisner reminded them of evidence introduced over the lengthy trial. He walked them through several scientific studies he said showed links to cancer, showed them excerpts of internal Monsanto emails that talked about ghostwriting scientific papers and covertly paying front groups such as the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) to publicly promote the safety of its herbicides. He reminded jurors of documents showing cozy ties to certain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials who back the safety of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, and documents showing Monsanto strategies to discredit international cancer scientists who classify glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.
Wisner said Monsanto buried studies that found harm with its products and promoted ghostwritten studies that promoted safety, engaging in conduct that was “reprehensible.”
“That ladies and gentlemen is how you manipulate science,” he said.
In contrast, Monsanto attorney Tarek Ismail told jurors in his closing argument that both Pilliods had multiple health problems and weakened immune systems and their cancers were not connected by any legitimate evidence to their use of Roundup.
“After all this time that we’ve been here in this trial, the plaintiffs haven’t showed you a single document or medical record or test specifically linking either plaintiff’s NHL to Roundup,” said Ismail. “And the thing is, you don’t have to agree with us on all of these or even some, because, if you follow any of these paths, you get to the same answer, that the plaintiffs have not met their burden of proof.”
Ismail told jurors that Wisner was manipulating their emotions, promoting “fear over science” and “emotion over evidence.” Regulatory agencies around the world back the safety of glyphosate and Monsanto herbicides, and aside from some poor choices of language in internal emails, there is no evidence of bad conduct by Monsanto. He said that Wisner was engaging in an “absurd” “charade” and “blatantly trying to manipulate” jurors when he put on gloves during trial testimony to handle a Roundup bottle filled not with the herbicide but with water.
“You folks have worked too hard, been here too long to allow someone to insult your intelligence like that. And I hope you reject it for what it was,” Ismail said.
Sparks flew when it was Wisner’s turn for rebuttal, as he loudly and angrily held up multiple notes he said were handed to him by colleagues pointing out falsehoods in various statements made by Ismail.
“Get out of here!” Wisner yelled, prompting Judge Winifred Smith to admonish him to calm down. He ended his rebuttal again imploring jurors to find for the Pilliods and order damages in such a high amount as to send a message to Monsanto and Bayer.
His final words to jurors – “Go get ’em.”
See transcript of closing arguments here.
The Pilliod case is the third Roundup cancer case to go to trial. Last summer a jury ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million in damages to cancer victim Dewayne “Lee” Johnson. The judge in the case later lowered the amount to $78 million. A second trial, also held in San Francisco in a separate case, resulted in an $80.2 million verdict for plaintiff Edwin Hardeman.
There are more than 13,000 other plaintiffs also alleging Monsanto’s herbicides cause cancer and the company has hidden the risks. Bayer shares have been rocked by the verdicts and investors are nervously awaiting the outcome of this trial. The company has lost more than $30 billion in shareholder value after buying Monsanto last summer.