Bayer’s bid to settle U.S. Roundup cancer claims making progress

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Monsanto owner Bayer AG is making progress toward a sweeping settlement of thousands of U.S. lawsuits brought by people alleging they or their loved ones developed cancer after exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides.

Recent correspondence from plaintiffs’ lawyers to their clients underscored that progress, confirming a large percentage of plaintiffs are opting to participate in the settlement, despite complaints by many plaintiffs that they are facing unfairly small payout proposals.

By some calculations, the average gross settlement will leave little to no compensation, perhaps a few thousand dollars, for individual plaintiffs after attorneys’ fees are paid and certain insured medical costs are reimbursed.

Nevertheless, according to a letter sent to plaintiffs in late November by one of the lead law firms in the litigation, more than 95 percent of the “eligible claimants” decided to participate in the settlement plan negotiated by the firm with Bayer. A “settlement administrator” now has 30 days to review the cases and confirm the plaintiffs’ eligibility to receive settlement funds, according to the correspondence.

People can choose to opt out of the settlement and take their claims to mediation, followed by binding arbitration if they wish or try to find a new lawyer who would take their case to trial. Those plaintiffs could have a difficult time finding a lawyer to help them take their case to trial because the law firms agreeing to the settlements with Bayer have agreed not to try any more cases or assist in future trials.

One plaintiff, who asked not to be identified by name due to the confidentiality of the settlement proceedings, said he is opting out of the settlement in hopes of obtaining more money through mediation or a future trial. He said he requires ongoing tests and treatments for his cancer and the proposed settlement structure would leave him nothing to cover those ongoing costs.

“Bayer wants a release by paying as little as possible without going to trial,” he said.

The rough estimate on average gross payouts per plaintiff is about $165,000, lawyers and plaintiffs involved in the discussions have said.  But some plaintiffs could receive far more, and some less, depending upon the details of their case. There are many criteria determining who can participate in the settlement and how much money that person may receive.

To be eligible, the Roundup user has to be a U.S. citizen, have been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), and had exposures to Roundup for at least one year prior to being diagnosed with NHL.

The settlement agreement with Bayer will be complete when the administrator confirms that more than 93 percent of claimants qualify, according to the terms of the deal.

If the settlement administrator finds a plaintiff ineligible, that plaintiff has 30 days to appeal the decision.

For plaintiffs deemed eligible the settlement administrator will award each case a number of points based on specific criteria. The amount of money each plaintiff will receive is based on the number of points calculated for their individual situation.

Basis points are established using the age of the individual at the time they were diagnosed with NHL and the level of severity of the “injury” as determined by the degree of treatment and outcome. The levels run 1-5. Someone who died from NHL is assigned basis points for a level 5, for instance. More points are given to younger people who suffered multiple rounds of treatment and/or died.

In addition to the basis points, adjustments are allowed that give more points to plaintiffs who had more exposure to Roundup. There are also allowances for more points for specific types of NHL. Plaintiffs diagnosed with a type of NHL called Primary Central Nervous System (CNS) lymphoma receive a 10 percent boost to their points tally, for example.

People can also have points deducted based on certain factors. Here are a few specific examples from the points matrix established for the Roundup litigation:

  • If a Roundup product user died before January 1, 2009, the total points for the claim brought on their behalf will be reduced by 50 percent.
  • If a deceased plaintiff had no spouse or minor children at the time of their death there is a deduction of 20 percent.
  • If a plaintiff had any prior blood cancers before using Roundup their points are cut by 30 percent.
  • If the span of time between a claimant’s Roundup exposure and the diagnosis of NHL was less than two years the points are cut 20 percent.

The settlement funds should begin to flow to participants in the spring with final payments hopefully made by summer, according to lawyers involved.

Plaintiffs can also apply to be part of an “extraordinary injury fund,” set up for a small group of plaintiffs who suffer from severe NHL-related injuries. A claim may be eligible for the extraordinary injury fund if the individual’s death from NHL came after three or more full courses of chemotherapy and other aggressive treatments.

Since buying Monsanto in 2018, Bayer has been struggling to figure out how to put an end to the litigation that includes more than 100,000 plaintiffs in the United States. The company lost all three trials held to date and has lost the early rounds of appeals seeking to overturn the trial losses. Juries in each of the trials found that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Roundup, do cause cancer and that Monsanto spent decades hiding the risks.

The jury awards totaled well over $2 billion, though the judgments have been ordered reduced by trial and appellate court judges.

The company’s efforts to resolve the litigation have been stymied in part by the challenge of how to head off claims that could be brought in the future by people who develop cancer after using the company’s herbicides.

Trial Appeals Continue

Even as Bayer aims to head off future trials with settlement dollars, the company continues to try to overturn the outcomes of the three trials the company lost.

In the first trial loss – the Johnson v. Monsanto case – Bayer lost efforts to overturn the jury finding that Monsanto was liable for Johnson’s cancer at the appellate court level, and in October, the California Supreme Court refused to review the case.

Bayer now has 150 days from that decision to ask for the matter to be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court. The company has not made a final decision regarding that move, according to a Bayer spokesman, but has indicated previously that it does intend to take such action.

If Bayer does petition the U.S. Supreme Court, Johnson’s attorneys are expected to file a conditional cross-appeal asking the court to examine the judicial actions that slashed Johnson’s jury award from $289 million to $20.5 million.

Other Bayer/Monsanto court cases

In addition to the liability Bayer faces from Monsanto’s Roundup cancer litigation, the company is struggling with Monsanto liabilities in PCB pollution litigation and in litigation over crop damage caused by Monsanto’s dicamba herbicide-based crop system.

A federal judge in Los Angeles last week rejected a proposal by Bayer to pay $648 million to settle class-action litigation brought by claimants alleging contamination from polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, made by the Monsanto.

Also last week, the trial judge in the case of Bader Farms, Inc. v. Monsanto rejected Bayer’s motions for a new trial.  The judge cut the punitive damages awarded by the jury, however, from $250 million to $60 million, leaving intact compensatory damages of $15 million, for a total award of $75 million.

Documents obtained through discovery in the Bader case revealed that Monsanto and chemical giant BASF were aware for years that their plans to introduce a dicamba herbicide-based agricultural seed and chemical system would probably lead to damage on many US farms.

Settlement in Monsanto Roundup cancer litigation complicated by hold-out attorney

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What will it take to get Mike Miller to settle? That is the pressing question as one of the lead lawyers in the nationwide Roundup cancer litigation has thus far refused to align with fellow litigators in agreeing to settle cases on behalf of thousands of cancer patients who claim their diseases were caused by exposure to Monsanto’s herbicide products.

Mike Miller, head of the Orange, Virginia-based law firm that bears his name, has been unwilling to accept the terms of settlement offers discussed in mediation talks between Monsanto’s German owner Bayer AG and a team of plaintiffs’ attorneys. That recalcitrance is a critical sticking point that is interfering with a resolution, sources close to the litigation say.

Instead, Miller’s firm is launching two new trials this month, including one that started today in Contra Costa, California, and one that starts Tuesday in St. Louis, Missouri. It is possible that Miller could agree to a settlement at any point, interrupting trial proceedings, however. Miller also has a trial set for February in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco. That case, brought by cancer patient Elaine Stevick, would be the second trial to be held in federal court.

Miller’s move to continue to try cases separates him from other leading Roundup plaintiffs’ firms, including the Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman law firm of Los Angeles and the Denver, Colorado-based Andrus Wagstaff firm. Like the Miller firm, Baum Hedlund and Andrus Wagstaff represent several thousands plaintiffs.

Those firms have agreed to cancel or postpone multiple trials, including two that involved young children with cancer, in order to facilitate a settlement.

Some sources have pegged a potential settlement number at $8 billion-$10 billion, though some analysts have said that number would be hard to justify to Bayer investors, who are keeping a close eye on the developments.

Critics accuse Miller of acting in a way that could hurt the ability of thousands of plaintiffs to obtain payouts from Bayer, but supporters say he is championing his clients’ interests and refusing to accept terms he finds less than optimal. Miller is a veteran litigator who has a long history of taking on large companies, including pharmaceutical giants, over alleged product-related consumer injuries.

Mediator Ken Feinberg said it was unclear if there could be a global settlement achieved without Miller.

“Mike Miller has a view of what his cases are worth and is seeking what he thinks is appropriate compensation,” said Feinberg.  U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria appointed Feinberg to act as a mediator between Bayer and the plaintiffs’ attorneys last May.

Monsanto has lost all three of the trials held so far. The Miller Firm handled two of those trials – bringing in Baum Hedlund lawyers to help with the case of  Dewayne “Lee” Johnson (after Mike Miller was severely injured in an accident just prior to trial) and also with the case of husband-and-wife plaintiffs, Alva and Alberta Pilliod.  Johnson was awarded $289 million and the Pilliods were awarded more than $2 billion though the trial judges in each case lowered the awards. The other trial that has thus far taken place, on claims brought by Edwin Hardeman, was handled by the Andrus Wagstaff firm and attorney Jennifer Moore.

Miller’s bid to push new trials carries several risks, including the fact that Monsanto could prevail in one or more of the cases, which could provide leverage to Bayer in settlement talks. Conversely, though, if Miller were to win the trials that could offer fresh leverage for the plaintiffs to ask for more money.

The pressure to settle has been ratcheting higher for both sides.  Complicating factors include a ballooning of the number of plaintiffs’ signed by law firms around the United States amid the publicity of a possible settlement. Some media reports have pegged the total number of plaintiffs at 80,000 while some sources have said the number is well over 100,000. A large part of that number, however, reflects plaintiffs that are signed but have not filed actions in court, and some who have filed but do not have  trial dates. Any settlement now would represent a large percentage of plaintiffs, but not likely all, sources said.

All the cases allege that the cancers were caused by exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, including the widely used Roundup brand. And all allege Monsanto knew about, and covered up, the risks.

Among the evidence that has emerged through the litigation are internal Monsanto documents showing the company engineered the publishing of scientific papers that falsely appeared to be created solely by independent scientists; the funding of, and collaborating with, front groups that were used to try to discredit scientists reporting harm with Monsanto’s herbicides; and collaborations with certain officials inside the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect and promote Monsanto’s position that its products were not cancer-causing.

In the California trial that started today, Kathleen Caballero alleges that she developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after spraying Roundup from 1977 to 2018 as part of her work at a gardening and landscaping business, and in her operation of a farm.

In the trial set to start Tuesday in St. Louis, there are four plaintiffs- Christopher Wade, Glen Ashelman, Bryce Batiste and Ann Meeks.

A third trial is also set for this month in Riverside County Superior Court. That case was brought by Treesa Cotton, a woman who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2015 that she blames on exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup.

More Monsanto Shoes (Documents) Set to Drop

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The law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman, which partnered with The Miller Firm in notching the historic victory for plaintiff Dewayne Lee Johnson over Monsanto in August, is seeking the de-designation of several hundred pages of internal Monsanto records that were obtained through discovery but have so far been kept sealed.

Baum Hedlund last year released hundreds of other internal Monsanto records that include emails, memos, text messages and other communications that were influential in the unanimous jury verdict finding Monsanto acted with “malice” by not warning customers of scientific concerns about its glyphosate-based herbicides. Jury sources say that those internal records were very influential in their $250 million punitive damage award against Monsanto, which the judge in the case reduced to $39 million for a total award of $78 million.

Attorneys for plaintiffs in two upcoming trials say that Monsanto records that have not been seen publicly before will be part of new evidence they plan to introduce at the trials.

Today is also the deadline for plaintiffs attorneys to respond to Monsanto’s motion to “reverse bifurcate” the Feb. 25 trial set for U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California. (see Dec. 11 entry below for more details)