Monsanto lawyer cross-examines cancer patient over her claims Roundup caused her disease

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A California woman suing Monsanto over allegations that her use of Roundup weed killer caused her to develop cancer testified Monday that she had a hard time remembering many details about the extent of her use of the pesticide, struggling to answer several questions posed by a Monsanto attorney.

In cross examination, Monsanto attorney Bart Williams pressed plaintiff Donetta Stephens on how much and when she had used the company’s popular herbicide before she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2017. Peppering Stephens with questions about changes in information she provided in depositions and interrogatories, the company’s lawyer sought to cast doubt on the span and volume of her actual use and exposure.

In testimony last week, Stephens’ son David Stephens recalled his mother’s frequent use of Roundup and her tendency to wear sleeveless shirts and shorts when outside spraying the weed killer. He described recalling her use when he was a child and seeing that use continuing when he was an adult.

But in Monday’s testimony, Williams sought to undermine Donnetta Stephens credibility, implying that her son and husband were the architects of many of her answers about her use of Roundup provided in pre-trial documents.

He said that Stephens and her husband had “changed your story about the length of time you had used Roundup,” saying initially her use dated back to 2003 but then saying the use began in 1985.

Stephens acknowledged that her memories of her use were aided by information from her family.

“You and I agree that one should not swear to something, accuracy, if you don’t know whether it is true or not.  That is my question,” Monsanto’s lawyer addressed Stephens.

“At that time, I believed it to be true, yes sir,” she replied.

“You believed it to be true solely because that’s what your husband or your son said, correct?” Williams  asked.

“Yes,” Stephens answered.

The line of questioning was anticipated in a June filing by Stephens’ lawyers, explaining to the judge that Stephens is in frail health after six cycles of chemotherapy and has suffered significant memory loss, making her “unable to recall certain Roundup exposures.”

She had told lawyers initially that her exposure extended over 14 years but amended that to say it was  closer to 30 years after being reminded of her use of Roundup products at a property where she had previously lived, according to her lawyers.

In their June filing, Stephens lawyers said Monsanto’s attorneys were accusing them and Stephens of “engaging in gamesmanship,” and allegation they denied.

Stephens testified that she does remember that sometimes when she was spraying Roundup the wind would blow spray onto her bare skin. She said she would not immediately wash it off, showering only after she completed her yardwork.

“It was all over me,” Stephens said.

At one point Monsanto’s attorney asked Stephens about her relationship with her children. When Stephens insisted she was close to her children, Monsanto’s attorney played a video deposition of a previous statement she had made saying the opposite.

Longtime Monsanto scientist Donna Farmer is scheduled to testify Tuesday.

Monsanto is owned by Germany’s Bayer AG. Bayer bought Monsanto in 2018.

Preference case

Stephens’ trial is a “preference” case, meaning her case was expedited after her lawyers informed the court that Stephens was “in a perpetual state of pain” and losing cognition and memory.

The case is being tried in the Superior Court of San Bernardino County in California under the oversight of Judge Gilbert Ochoa. It is the fourth Roundup cancer trial to take place in the United States and the first since 2019. Juries in all three prior trials found in favor of the plaintiffs, agreeing with claims that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weed killers, such as Roundup, cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Monsanto spent decades covering up the risks, and failing to warn users.

Stephens is one of tens of thousands of plaintiffs who filed lawsuits against Monsanto after the World Health Organization’s cancer experts classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen with an association to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The three prior trials were all lengthy, in-person proceedings loaded with weeks of highly technical testimony about scientific data, regulatory matters and documents detailing internal Monsanto communications.

Stephens trial is being held via Zoom due to concerns about the spread of Covid-19, and numerous technical difficulties have plagued the proceedings. On Monday, the trial was stopped several times because jurors lost connections or had other problems that inhibited their ability to hear and view the trial testimony.

Bayer Roundup trial goes virtual, and it does not go well

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In fits and starts, and with a good dose of frustration over technical difficulties, a California trial pitting an elderly cancer victim against Monsanto owner Bayer AG resumed on Monday in a virtual format after in-person proceedings were suspended last week, reportedly due to concerns about the spread of Covid-19.

Due to an array of technical problems, lawyers for plaintiff Donnetta Stephens were only able to present abbreviated testimony on Monday from expert witness Charles Benbrook, a former research professor who served at one time as executive director of the National Academy of Sciences board on agriculture.

Benbrook is considered a key witness, and is being called to testify about topics that include the history of scientific submissions to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by Monsanto and alleged regulatory shortcomings.

The case, which is being tried in the Superior Court of San Bernardino County in California under the oversight of Judge Gilbert Ochoa,  is the fourth Roundup cancer trial to take place in the United States and the first since 2019. Juries in all three prior trials found in favor of the plaintiffs, agreeing with claims that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weed killers, such as Roundup, cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Monsanto spent decades covering up the risks, and failing to warn users.

Stephens is one of tens of thousands of plaintiffs who filed lawsuits against Monsanto after the World Health Organization’s cancer experts classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen with an association to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The three prior trials were all lengthy, in-person proceedings loaded with weeks of highly technical testimony about scientific data, regulatory matters and documents detailing internal Monsanto communications.

Monday’s proceedings indicated that both sides may face significant challenges in trying to convey and combat the evidence and testimony in a virtual format.

Among the issues on Monday, a court reporter couldn’t fully hear the exchanges between lawyer and witness; jurors had difficulty turning on their computer cameras, a requirement issued by the judge; and the judge himself had to relocate at one point in an effort to improve audio transmission.

A courtroom attendant reassured the judge that he was checking in on the jurors every ten minutes and “it appeared that they were all paying attention.”

At one point when calling a break, Judge Ochoa pleaded: “Ladies and gentleman of the jury please, whatever you do, don’t turn off your computers, don’t touch them, just leave them alone and hopefully everybody’s computer will play nice.”

The judge recessed for the day in mid-afternoon, thanking the jurors for their patience.

“We did have some major technical difficulties,” Judge Ochoa said. He noted, however, that they “did make history” by holding the court’s first “Zoom trial.”

Bayer heads into next U.S. cancer trial, opening statements set for Thursday

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Despite Bayer AG’s efforts to put an end to costly litigation inherited in its acquisition of Monsanto, opening statements in yet another trial are set for Thursday as a woman suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma claims Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide caused her cancer.

A jury of seven men and five women have been seated in the case of Donnetta Stephens v. Monsanto in the Superior Court of San Bernardino County in California.  Judge Gilbert Ochoa was hearing last-minute arguments over evidence on Wednesday.

The trial comes a week after Bayer announced it would stop selling Roundup, and other herbicides made with the active ingredient glyphosate, to U.S. consumers by 2023. Monsanto was purchased by Bayer AG in 2018, and Bayer insists, just as Monsanto has for decades, that there is no valid evidence of a cancer connection between its weed killing products and cancer.

Bayer said the move to stop selling the  herbicides to consumers was “to manage litigation risk and not because of any safety concerns.” The company said it will continue to sell its glyphosate-based herbicides for commercial use and for use by farmers.

Bayer also said last week it was setting aside $4.5 billion – on top of roughly $11 billion already earmarked for Roundup litigation settlements – to cover “potential long-term exposure” to liability associated with claims from cancer victims such as Stephens.

Bayer further said with respect to ongoing litigation, it “will be very selective in its settlement approach in the coming months.”

Evidence at issue

Ahead of the opening statements in the Stephens trial, many issues were being argued without the jury present on Wednesday in front of Judge Ochoa, including the scope of allowable arguments by plaintiffs that Monsanto should have provided warnings to Roundup users that certain scientific research showed links between its products and cancer.

Judge Ochoa earlier ruled – in agreement with Monsanto – that federal law regarding Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversight of pesticide product labeling preempts “failure to warn” claims under state law, meaning Stephens’ lawyers would not be able to pursue such claims.

The plaintiffs still hope to argue, however, that separate from the labeling issues, Monsanto could have, and should have, warned consumers about the potential cancer risk in other ways, according to Stephens’ lawyer Fletcher Trammell. He and Stephens’ other lawyers will seek to prove that Monsanto made an unsafe herbicide product and knowingly pushed it into the marketplace despite scientific research showing glyphosate-based herbicides could cause cancer.

Lawyers for Stephens say that she was a regular user of Roundup herbicide for more than 30 years and it was that extended exposure to the glyphosate-based products made popular by Monsanto that caused her non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Stephens was diagnosed in 2017 and has suffered from numerous health complications amid multiple rounds of chemotherapy since then.  She is one of tens of thousands of plaintiffs who filed U.S. lawsuits against Monsanto after the World Health Organization’s cancer experts classified glyphosate – the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicides – as a probable human carcinogen with an association to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The list of evidence to be presented at trial runs more than 250 pages and includes scientific studies as well as Monsanto emails and other internal corporate documents. A federal judge who has been overseeing nationwide Roundup litigation stated in a recent order that there is “a good deal of damning evidence against Monsanto—evidence which suggested that Monsanto never seemed to care whether its product harms people.”

Close to 70 people are listed as witnesses to testify at trial, either live or through deposition testimony, including many former Monsanto scientists and executives.

The first witness set to take the stand is retired U.S. government scientist Christopher Portier, who has been an expert witness for the plaintiffs in each of the prior Roundup trials. Portier has previously testified that there is clear scientific evidence showing glyphosate and glyphosate-based formulations such as Roundup can cause cancer in people. He has also testified in the past that U.S. and European regulators have not properly assessed the science and have ignored research showing cancer concerns with Monsanto’s herbicides.

Before retiring, Portier led the National Center for Environmental Health/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Prior to that role, Portier spent 32 years with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, where he served as associate director, and director of the Environmental Toxicology Program, which has since merged into the institute’s National Toxicology Program. Portier was also an “invited specialist” to the International Agency for Research on Cancer unit of the World Health Organization when the group made its probable carcinogen classification of glyphosate in 2015.

Bayer hopes for help from Supreme Court

Monsanto has lost three out of three previous trials, with a jury in the last trial – held in 2019 – ordering a staggering $2 billion in damages due to what the jury saw as egregious conduct by Monsanto in failing to warn users of evidence – including numerous scientific studies – showing a connection between its products and cancer. (The award was later shaved to $87 million.)

In trying to free itself from the weight of Monsanto-related woes, Bayer said last week that in addition to  replacing its glyphosate-based products in the U.S. residential market with new formulations using alternative ingredients, it is exploring changes to Roundup labeling.

“It is important for the company, our owners, and our customers that we move on and put the uncertainty and ambiguity related to the glyphosate litigation behind us,” Bayer CEO Werner Baumann said during a recent investor call.

The company also said it will file a petition this month seeking U.S. Supreme Court review of one of its trial losses – the case of Hardeman v. Monsanto. Bayer said if the Supreme Court grants review,  the company “will not entertain any further settlement discussions” while the court reviews the appeal.

In the event of a “negative Supreme Court outcome,” Bayer said it would set up a claims’ administration program that will offer “pre-determined compensation values”  to “eligible individuals” who used Roundup and developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma over the next 15 years.

New Roundup cancer trial starting in California

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Lawyers representing a woman suffering from cancer are prepared to face off against Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG in a California courtroom on Monday in what is set as the fourth trial over allegations Monsanto’s popular Roundup weed killers cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

Jury selection in the case of Donnetta Stephens v. Monsanto is expected to take several days and the trial itself is expected to last up to eight weeks. Judge Gilbert Ochoa of the Superior Court of San Bernardino County in California is overseeing the proceedings.

Monsanto has lost three out of three previous trials, with a jury in the last trial – held in 2019 – ordering a staggering $2 billion in damages due to what the jury saw as egregious conduct by Monsanto in failing to warn users of evidence – including numerous scientific studies – showing a connection between its products and cancer. (The award was later shaved to $87 million.)

Lawyers for Stephens say that she was a regular user of Roundup herbicide for more than 30 years and it was that extended exposure to the glyphosate-based products made popular by Monsanto that caused her NHL.

Stephens was diagnosed in 2017 and has suffered from numerous health complications amid multiple rounds of chemotherapy since then. Because of her poor health,  a judge in December granted Stephens a trial “preference,” meaning her case was expedited, after her lawyers informed the court that Stephens is “in a perpetual state of pain,” and losing cognition and memory.

She is one of tens of thousands of plaintiffs who filed U.S. lawsuits against Monsanto after the World Health Organization’s cancer experts classified glyphosate – the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicides – as a probable human carcinogen with an association to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Judge Ochoa has made several pretrial rulings, including agreeing with Monsanto that federal law regarding pesticide regulation and labeling preempts “failure to warn” claims under state law and  Stephens’ lawyers would not be able to pursue such claims.

The plaintiffs still will be able to argue that separate from the labeling issues, Monsanto could have, and should have, warned consumers about the potential cancer risk in other ways, according to Stephens’ lawyer Fletcher Trammell. He and Stephens’ other lawyers will seek to prove their claims that Monsanto made an unsafe herbicide product and knowingly pushed it into the marketplace despite scientific research showing glyphosate-based herbicides could cause cancer.

Monsanto was purchased by Bayer AG in 2018 and is no longer a stand-alone company but is the named defendant in ongoing litigation. Bayer insists, just as Monsanto has for decades, that there is no valid evidence of a cancer connection between its weed killing products and cancer.

Questions for the Jury

Jury selection is deemed a critical part of any trial and as the opposing sides look at the pool of  prospective jurors for the Stephens trial they will be screening them for signs of bias. According to a jury questionnaire, among the questions jurors are to be asked are these:

  • Do you believe most companies’ scientific studies regarding safety are altered to further a specific agenda?
  • Do you have any opinions about how well most corporations communicate safety information about their products to the public?
  • Do you, or does anyone close to you, have any health problems or concerns resulting from any products you or they have used or been around?
  • Do you believe that any exposures to hazardous chemicals, no matter how small, is harmful to humans?

The jurors who are selected will face a daunting amount of evidence, including scientific studies and internal Monsanto records. The list of evidence, in the form of ‘exhibits’ to be presented at trial, runs more than 250 pages and includes many damning Monsanto emails and other documents that led a federal judge who has been overseeing nationwide Roundup litigation to state in a recent order that the trials have provided “a good deal of damning evidence against Monsanto—evidence which suggested that Monsanto never seemed to care whether its product harms people.”

There also will be many witnesses involved in the trial. Stephens’ lawyers have listed 39 people they intend to call to testify,  including deposition testimony of Monsanto scientist Donna Farmer,  former Monsanto Chairman Hugh Grant, and multiple other Monsanto executives.

Monsanto’s witness list includes many of the company’s executives and scientists as well as former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official Jess Rowland, who has been revealed as an ally and friend to the company in the ongoing litigation. Monsanto has listed a total of 32 individuals as witnesses for the defense.

Bayer Looking for a Win

In the first trial against Monsanto, a unanimous jury awarded plaintiff Dewayne Johnson $289 million; the plaintiff in the second trial was awarded $80 million; and the jury in the third trial awarded more than $2 billion to husband-and-wife plaintiffs. All the awards were reduced sharply by judges involved in the cases but the verdicts assigning blame to Monsanto for the cancers have not been overturned.

Bayer sees the preemption argument as critical to its ability to limit the ongoing litigation liability. The company has made it clear that it hopes at some point to get a U.S. Supreme Court finding that under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the EPA’s position that Monsanto’s herbicides are not likely to cause cancer essentially bars complaints that Monsanto didn’t warn of any cancer risk.

Even as it pursues a preemption ruling, Bayer said last year that it had agreed to pay close to $11 billion to settle existing Roundup cancer claims. But many law firms have dismissed the individual offers for their clients as insufficient, and they continue to press for more trials.

Bayer said recently it is considering pulling Roundup products from the U.S. market for residential users, though not from farm use.

Elderly woman to take on Monsanto in next trial over cancer claims

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An elderly California woman who was a regular user of Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer for more than 30 years is set as the next person to try to prove that exposure to the chemical causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a claim already won by plaintiffs in three previous trials.

The case of Donnetta Stephens v. Monsanto is set for trial July 19 in San Bernardino County Superior Court in California. Stephens from Yucaipa, California was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) in 2017 and has suffered from numerous health complications amid multiple rounds of chemotherapy since then. Because of her poor health,  a judge in December granted Stephens a trial “preference,” meaning her case was expedited, after her lawyers informed the court that Stephens is “in a perpetual state of pain,” and losing cognition and memory.

Several other cases have either already been granted preference trial dates or are seeking trial dates for other plaintiffs, including at least two children, suffering from NHL the plaintiffs allege was caused by exposure to Roundup products.

Monsanto was purchased by Bayer AG in 2018 and is no longer a stand-alone company but is the named defendant in ongoing litigation, which began in 2015 after cancer experts consulted by a unit of the World Health Organization determined glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s  Roundup, is a probable human carcinogen with a particular association to NHL.

Some old evidence, some new

The Stephens case is expected to involve many of the same expert witnesses and same documents and deposition testimony that helped plaintiffs win the prior trials, said Stephens’ lawyer Fletch Trammell. Two new experts who have not testified previously in Roundup trials will be called, however, said Trammell. They are Barry Boyd, an oncologist from Yale Cancer Center, and Luoping Zhang, an adjunct professor of toxicology at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley.

Zhang is the lead author of a meta-analysis published in 2019 that determined research showed “a compelling link” between exposures to glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Roundup, and increased risk for NHL.  The analysis found that people with high exposures to the popular pesticides have a 41 percent increased risk of developing NHL.

Monsanto has long maintained that there is no legitimate scientific research showing a definitive association between glyphosate and NHL or any type of cancer. A 2020 meta-analysis could be useful to  Monsanto’s defense. That report concluded that there is “no overall evidence of an increased risk” for NHL “in subjects occupationally exposed to glyphosate.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has supported the safety of glyphosate products, saying the agency’s analysis of scientific evidence shows the chemical is “not likely” to cause cancer.

The company claims the scientists with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC),  who classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen, engaged in improper conduct and failed to give adequate weight to several important studies.

But the juries in the three prior trials found the evidence so overwhelming in favor of plaintiffs that they awarded the plaintiff in the first trial $289 million; the plaintiff in the second trial $80 million; and more than $2 billion to the husband-and-wife plaintiffs in the third trial. All the awards were reduced sharply by judges involved in the cases but the verdicts assigning blame to Monsanto for the cancers have not been overturned.

Bayer settlement issues

Bayer said last year that it had agreed to pay close to $11 billion to settle close to 100,000 Roundup cancer claims, but many law firms have dismissed the individual offers for their clients as insufficient, and they continue to press for more trials.

Additionally, Bayer has thus far failed to get court approval for varying proposals to try to create a class action settlement program for people who bring cancer claims in the future. After a stinging rebuke of its plans issued last month by a federal judge overseeing much of the litigation, Bayer said it is now considering pulling Roundup products from the U.S. market for residential users, though not from farm use.

There are thousands of plaintiffs still awaiting either settlement offers or trial settings, and as they wait, the deaths mount. Another woman who was granted a trial preference in a December court order, died only a month later, in January. 

The last trial held concluded in May 2019. Since then several other trials have been scheduled but Monsanto settled each case before the trials started.

Trammell said so far Monsanto has not made any settlement offer for the Stephens case and has made only what he called “nuisance value” five-figure offers for other clients he represents.

“She used Roundup for over 30 years, and had heavy exposure,” Trammell said of Stephens. “There is no non-Hodgkin anywhere in her family tree.  They are rolling out the same defenses and I think they’re going to lose on the same grounds.”

According to court filings, Stephens health has deteriorated significantly in the last year:

“The pain and weakness Ms. Stephens experiences in her feet and legs cause her to stumble and fall frequently, and she relies on her husband to walk behind her in case she should fall. Id. Because of this pain and weakness, Ms. Stephens is no longer able to drive a car. Ms. Stephens also suffers from
severe vertigo and very regularly passes out due to the intense dizziness she experiences. 
Formerly, Ms. Stephens was an active individual who loved to tend to her neighbors’ gardens.
Now, she can barely walk and must use a cane or walker to support herself.  Her physician
has informed her that she will need a wheelchair in the near future. Using her own word, Ms.
Stephens describes the pain she experiences as though she is getting shot through with electricity.
As this description reflects, the pain Ms. Stephens experiences is relentless, unabated, and all-consuming, causing this once former active individual to live her life in a perpetual state of fear of undertaking the simple task of movement.”

Bayer did not respond to a request for comment.

The case is Stephens v. Monsanto CIVSB2104801 in the Superior Court of California – County of San Bernardino.

The Monsanto Papers – Deadly Secrets, Corporate Corruption, and One Man’s Search for Justice

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USRTK Research Director Carey Gillam’s new book is out now and garnering glowing reviews. Here is a brief description of the book from publisher Island Press:

Lee Johnson was a man with simple dreams. All he wanted was a steady job and a nice home for his wife and children, something better than the hard life he knew growing up. He never imagined that he would become the face of a David-and-Goliath showdown against one of the world’s most powerful corporate giants. But a workplace accident left Lee doused in a toxic chemical and facing a deadly cancer that turned his life upside down. In 2018, the world watched as Lee was thrust to the forefront of one the most dramatic legal battles in recent history.

The Monsanto Papers is the inside story of Lee Johnson’s landmark lawsuit against Monsanto. For Lee, the case was a race against the clock, with doctors predicting he wouldn’t survive long enough to take the witness stand. For the eclectic band of young, ambitious lawyers representing him, it was a matter of professional pride and personal risk, with millions of their own dollars and hard-earned reputations on the line.

With a gripping narrative force, The Monsanto Papers takes readers behind the scenes of a grueling legal battle, pulling back the curtain on the frailties of the American court system and the lengths to which lawyers will go to fight corporate wrongdoing and find justice for consumers.

See more about the book here. Buy the book at AmazonBarnes & Noble, publisher Island Press or independent book sellers.

Reviews

“A powerful story, well told, and a remarkable work of investigative journalism. Carey Gillam has written a compelling book from beginning to end, about one of the most important legal battles of our time.”  — Lukas Reiter, TV executive producer and writer for “The Blacklist,” “The Practice,” and “Boston Legal”

“The Monsanto Papers blends science and human tragedy with courtroom drama in the style of John Grisham. It is a story of corporate malfeasance on a grand scale – a chilling revelation of the chemical industry’s greed, arrogance, and reckless disregard for human life and the health of our planet. It is a must read.”  — Philip J. Landrigan, MD, Director, Program for Global Public Health and the Common Good, Boston College

“Veteran investigative journalist Carey Gillam tells Johnson’s story in her latest book, “The Monsanto Papers,” a fast-paced, engaging account of how Monsanto and Bayer’s fortunes changed dramatically in such a short span of time. Despite the subject matter — complicated science and legal proceedings — “The Monsanto Papers” is a gripping read that provides an easy-to-follow explanation of how this litigation unfolded, how the jurors reached their verdict and why Bayer appears to be, in effect, throwing up a white flag now.”  — St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“The author builds a convincing case that Monsanto was more interested in protecting the reputation of its cash cow than heeding scientific evidence of its dangerous properties. Gillam is especially good at rendering the complex dynamics of the legal personalities, which adds a further humanizing dimension to Johnson’s story…An authoritative takedown of a corporation that evidently cares little for public health.”  ― Kirkus

“Gillam narrates an of-the-moment reckoning with a major corporation whose products have been marketed as safe since the 1970s. As an examination of both corporate malfeasance and legal maneuvering in torts cases, Gillam’s book personifies the need for consumer protections and safety.”  ― Booklist

“A great read, a page turner. I was totally engrossed by the deception, distortions, and lack of decency of the company.”  — Linda S. Birnbaum, Former Director, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program, and Scholar in Residence, Duke University

“A powerful book that sheds light on Monsanto and others who have been untouchable for so long!”
— John Boyd Jr., Founder and President, National Black Farmers Association

About the Author

Investigative journalist Carey Gillam has spent more than 30 years reporting on corporate America, including 17 years working for Reuters international news agency. Her 2017 book about pesticide dangers, Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science, won the 2018 Rachel Carson Book Award from the Society of Environmental Journalists and has become a part of the curriculum in several university environmental health programs. Gillam is currently Research Director for the non-profit consumer group U.S. Right to Know and writes as a contributor for The Guardian.

California Supreme Court denies review of Monsanto Roundup trial loss

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The California Supreme Court will not review a California man’s trial win over Monsanto, dealing another blow to Monsanto’s German owner, Bayer AG.

The decision to deny a review in the case of Dewayne “Lee” Johnson marks the latest in a string of court losses for Bayer as it tries to complete settlements with close to 100,000 plaintiffs who each claim they or their loved ones developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma from exposure to Roundup and other Monsanto weed killers. Juries in each of three trials held to date have found not only that the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer but also that Monsanto spent decades hiding the risks.

“We are disappointed with the Court’s decision not to review the intermediate appeals court’s decision in Johnson and will consider our legal options for further review of this case,” Bayer said in a statement.  

The Miller Firm, Johnson’s Virginia-based law firm, said the California Supreme Court’s decision denied “Monsanto’s latest attempt to skirt responsibility” for causing Johnson’s cancer.

“Multiple judges have now affirmed the jury’s unanimous finding that Monsanto maliciously  concealed Roundup’s cancer risk and caused Mr. Johnson to develop a deadly form of cancer. The time has come for Monsanto to end its baseless appeals and pay Mr. Johnson the money it owes him,” the firm said.

A unanimous jury found in August 2018 that exposure to Monsanto’s herbicides  caused Johnson to develop a deadly form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The jury further found that Monsanto acted to hide the risks of its products in conduct so egregious that the company should pay Johnson $250 million in punitive damages on top of $39 million in past and future compensatory damages.

Upon appeal from Monsanto, the trial judge reduced the $289 million to $78 million. An appeals court then cut the award to $20.5 million, citing the fact that Johnson was expected to live only a short time.

The appeals court said it reduced the damages award despite finding there was “abundant” evidence that glyphosate, together with the other ingredients in Roundup products, caused Johnson’s cancer and that “there was overwhelming evidence that Johnson has suffered, and will continue to suffer for the rest of his life, significant pain and suffering.”

Both Monsanto and Johnson sought review by the California Supreme Court, with Johnson asking for restoration of a higher damage award and Monsanto seeking to reverse the trial judgment.

Bayer has reached settlements with several of the leading law firms who collectively represent a significant share of the claims brought against Monsanto. In June, Bayer said it would provide $8.8 billion to $9.6 billion to resolve the litigation.

Roundup cancer trials still a threat to Bayer, but settlement talks progressing

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Lawyers for Monsanto owner Bayer AG and for plaintiffs suing Monsanto told a federal judge on Thursday that they were continuing to make progress in settling sweeping nationwide litigation brought by people who claim Monsanto’s Roundup caused them to develop cancer.

In a video hearing, Bayer lawyer William Hoffman told U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria the company had reached deals – or was close to reaching deals – to resolve more than 3,000 lawsuits that are grouped together in multidistrict litigation (MDL) filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The company separately has already settled thousands of cases outside the MDL, cases that have been proceeding through state courts. But controversy and conflict have dogged the overall settlement offers, with allegations from some plaintiffs’ firms that Bayer reneged on agreements reached months ago, and some plaintiffs’ firms unwilling to agree to what they consider inadequate offers from Bayer.

There was no discussion of those complaints, however,  in Thursday’s hearing, with both sides expressing optimistic views.

“The company has moved forward and finalized several agreements with firms…. we’re also hopefully going to finalize additional agreements in the next several days,” Hoffman told the judge.

“Where we are right now… these figures are somewhat estimates but I think they are reasonably close: There are approximately 1,750 cases that are subject to agreements between the company and law firms and another approximately 1,850 to 1,900 cases that are in various stages of discussion right now,” Hoffman said. “We are working to put in place a program to accelerate discussions and hopefully bring agreements to fruition with those firms.”

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Brent Wisner told the judge it was important to note that there remain a “handful of cases” within the MDL that are not settled yet. But, he said – “We anticipate they will be shortly.”

Judge Chhabria said that given the progress he will continue a stay of the Roundup litigation until November 2 but that he will start moving cases to trial if they are not resolved by that point.

Bayer Bad Dealing Alleged

The cooperative tone expressed in Thursday’s hearing was a far cry from a hearing held last month when plaintiffs’ attorney Aimee Wagstaff  told Judge Chhabria that Bayer was not honoring tentative settlement agreements made in March and intended for finalization in July.

Bayer announced in June that it had reached a $10 billion settlement with U.S. law firms to resolve most of more than 100,000 Roundup cancer claims. But at that time the only major law firms leading the litigation that had final signed agreements with Bayer were The Miller Firm and Weitz & Luxenburg.

The Miller Firm’s deal alone totaled $849 million to cover the claims of more than 5,000 Roundup clients, according to settlement documents.

The  California-based Baum Hedlund Aristei &  Goldman law firm; the Andrus Wagstaff firm from Colorado; and the Moore Law Group of Kentucky had tentative deals but not final agreements.

According to a letter written by Wagstaff filed with the court, Bayer requested repeated extensions until the deal with her firm fell apart in mid-August. After reporting the issues to Judge Chhabria, the settlement talks resumed and were ultimately resolved with the three firms this month.

Some details of how the settlements will be administered were filed earlier this week in a court in Missouri. The Garretson Resolution Group, Inc., doing business as Epiq Mass Tort, will act as the
Lien Resolution Administrator,” for instance, for clients of Andrus Wagstaff whose settlement dollars will need to be used in part or in whole to repay cancer treatment expenses paid by Medicare.

Bayer bought Monsanto in 2018 just as the first Roundup cancer trial was getting underway. It has since lost all three of the 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 herbicides 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.

Bayer had threatened to file for bankruptcy if no nationwide settlement was reached, according to communications from the plaintiffs’ firms to their clients.

Bayer inks deals with three Roundup cancer law firms as settlement progresses

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Bayer AG has reached final settlement terms with three major law firms representing thousands of plaintiffs who claim exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The new deals have been  made with California-based Baum Hedlund Aristei &  Goldman law firm; the Andrus Wagstaff firm from Colorado; and the Moore Law Group of Kentucky. The firms each filed notification of the deals with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Monday.

The deals come after allegations by the three law firms that Bayer was reneging on terms of agreements already made months earlier. The firms told the court Monday that they each now have a “fully-executed and binding Master Settlement Agreement with Monsanto.”

Notably, the deals mark a critical step toward bringing closure to the five-year-old mass tort litigation that now tallies more than 100,000 claims brought by people from around the United States who used Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides made by Monsanto before they developed cancer.

Bayer bought Monsanto in 2018 just as the first Roundup cancer trial was getting underway. It has since lost all three of the 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 herbicides 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.

Bayer had threatened to file for bankruptcy if no nationwide settlement was reached, according to communications from the plaintiffs’ firms to their clients.

Bayer announced in June that it had reached a $10 billion settlement with U.S. law firms to resolve most of more than 100,000 Roundup cancer claims. But at that time only two of the major law firms in the sweeping litigation had final signed agreements with Bayer – The Miller Firm and Weitz & Luxenburg, according to sources close to the negotiations. The Baum firm, the Andrus Wagstaff firm and the Moore firm had memorandums of understanding but not final agreements, sources said.

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. Bayer tried to get court approval for a plan that would have delayed the filing of new Roundup cancer cases for four years, and would have established a five-member “science panel” to determine whether Roundup can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and if so, at what minimum exposure levels.  If the panel determined there was no causal connection between Roundup and non-Hodgkin lymphoma then the class members would be barred from future such claims.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria rejected the plan,  sending Bayer back to the drawing board.

Bayer had said Thursday that it was making progress in the development of a “revised” plan to resolve potential future Roundup litigation. The details of the revised class plan will be finalized over the coming weeks, according to Bayer.

Several plaintiffs have been unhappy with the settlement, saying they will not receive very much money despite years of expensive cancer treatments and ongoing pain and suffering. Indeed, many plaintiffs have died while waiting for a resolution.

On September 9, lawyers for Marie Bernice Dinner and her husband Bruce Dinner filed notice with the court that 73-year-old Marie died on June 2 from the non-Hodgkin lymphoma she and her husband alleged was caused by her exposure to Monsanto’s weed killers.

Lawyers for Bruce Dinner asked the court to allow them to amend the complaint against Monsanto to add a claim for wrongful death. The couple was married 53 years and have two children and four grandchildren.

“Marie Bernice was an extraordinary person.  Her death should have been prevented,” said lawyer Beth Klein, who is representing the family.

Appeals court denies Monsanto bid for Roundup case rehearing

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A California appeals court on Tuesday rejected Monsanto’s effort to trim $4 million from the amount of money it owes a California groundskeeper who is struggling to survive cancer that a jury found was caused by the man’s exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides.

The Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District of California also rejected the company’s request for a rehearing of the matter.  The court’s decision followed its ruling last month slamming Monsanto  for its denial of the strength of the evidence that its glyphosate-based weed killers cause cancer. In that July ruling, the court said that plaintiff Dewayne “Lee” Johnson had presented “abundant” evidence that Monsanto’s weed killer caused his cancer.  “Expert after expert provided evidence both that Roundup products are capable of causing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma…  and caused Johnson’s cancer in particular,” the appeals court stated in its July decision.

In that decision from last month, the appeals court did, however, cut the damage award owed to Johnson, ordering Monsanto to pay $20.5 million, down from $78 million ordered by the trial judge and down from $289 million ordered by the jury who decided Johnson’s case in August 2018.

In addition to the $20.5 million Monsanto owes Johnson, the company is ordered to pay $519,000 in costs.

Monsanto, which was bought by Bayer AG in 2018, had urged the court to cut the award to Johnson to $16.5 million.

Dicamba decision also stands

Tuesday’s court decision followed a decision issued Monday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denying a rehearing of the court’s June decision to vacate the approval of the dicamba-based weed killing product Bayer inherited from Monsanto. That June ruling also effectively banned dicamba-based herbicides made by BASF and Corteva Agriscience.

The companies had petitioned for a broader group of judges from the Ninth Circuit judges to rehear the case, arguing that the decision to revoke regulatory approvals for the products was unfair. But the court flatly rejected that rehearing request.

In its June decision, the Ninth Circuit said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had violated the law when it approved the dicamba products developed by Monsanto/Bayer, BASF and Corteva.

The court ordered an immediate ban on use of each of the company’s dicamba products, finding that the EPA “substantially understated the risks” of the dicamba herbicides and “failed entirely to acknowledge other risks.”

The court decision banning the company’s dicamba products triggered an uproar in farm country because many soybean and cotton farmers planted millions of acres of genetically altered dicamba-tolerant crops developed by Monsanto with the intent of treating weeds in those fields with the dicamba herbicides made by the three companies. Similar to “Roundup Ready” glyphosate-tolerant crops, the dicamba-tolerant crops allow farmers to spray dicamba over their fields tyo kill weeds without harming their crops.

When Monsanto, BASF and DuPont/Corteva rolled out their dicamba herbicides a few years ago they  claimed the products would not volatize and drift into neighboring fields as older versions of dicamba weed killing products were known to do. But those assurances proved false amid widespread complaints of dicamba drift damage.

More than one million acres of crops not genetically engineered to tolerate dicamba were reported damaged last year in 18 states, the federal court noted in its June ruling.