The drama continues in the closely watched battle between lawyers defending the former Monsanto Co. and those representing thousands of cancer victims who claim exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide gave them or a family member non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
On Friday, a California trial was officially postponed after more than a week of jury selection activities and the seating of 16 jurors. Instead of proceeding with opening statements, that trial has now been postponed indefinitely, with a case management conference set for March 31.
Meanwhile, the multi-plaintiff trial that was postponed just before opening statements last week in St. Louis has been rescheduled to open next Wednesday, sources close to the litigation said.
The St. Louis trial is particularly problematic for Monsanto because it involves four plaintiffs, including one woman whose husband died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and because the judge has ruled that the trial can be broadcast over the Courtroom View Network and through feeds to television and radio stations. Lawyers for Monsanto’s German owner Bayer AG argued against broadcasting the trial, saying the publicity endangers its executives and witnesses.
Several trials have been pulled off the docket over the last several weeks as Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, has drawn closer to a global settlement of what amounts to well more than 50,000 claims – some estimates are more than 100,000. Bayer is looking to pay out roughly $10 billion in total to settle the claims, according to sources close to the negotiations.
The lawsuits all allege that the Monsanto was well aware of scientific research demonstrating there were human health risks tied to its glyphosate-based herbicides but did nothing to warn consumers, working instead to manipulate the scientific record to protect company sales.
Bayer investors are eager for the company to put an end to the litigation and head off more trials and the publicity that each brings. Bayer’s lawyers have reportedly negotiated settlement payout for the clients of several large firms, but have been unable to reach agreement with two large plaintiffs’ firms – The Miller Firm of Virginia and Weitz & Luxenberg of New York. The Miller firm represents the plaintiffs in both the California case just pulled from the docket and in the St. Louis case just put back on.
Shares rose last week when the St. Louis trial was abruptly postponed as lead attorneys from the two plaintiffs’ firms – Mike Miller and Perry Weitz – left the courthouse just before opening statements were scheduled to begin in order to continue last-minute talks with Bayer attorneys.
The postponement has frustrated onlookers, including the crew from Courtroom View Network, which remained at the courthouse this week awaiting news of when the trial might resume. They were told Friday morning only that the trial would not resume on Monday. They learned later it would resume Wednesday instead.
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.
Those trials turned a public spotlight on internal Monsanto records that show 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.