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.

Consolidation approved for lawsuits against Syngenta and Chevron over herbicide

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A U.S. judicial panel has ordered the pretrial consolidation of dozens of lawsuits against Syngenta and Chevron over allegations that paraquat weed killer, which has been used widely around the world for more than 50 years, causes Parkinson’s disease.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation said that “to date, 77 actions and potential tag-along actions are pending in sixteen different districts,” and they all involve “common factual issues concerning the propensity of paraquat to cause Parkinson’s Disease.” The cases will include “complex scientific and regulatory issues,” the panel said.

“Centralization will eliminate duplicative discovery; avoid inconsistent pretrial rulings; and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary,” the panel stated in its order.

The panel determined the cases will be transferred to the federal court in the Southern District of Illinois and assigned to U.S. Judge Nancy Rosenstengel for handling.

Lawyer Majed Nachawati, whose firm is among those representing hundreds of plaintiffs suing Syngenta and Chevron, applauded the decision, and said the litigation is “monumentally important.” It was Nachawati’s firm that requested the MDL.

Syngenta, a Swiss company owned by a larger Chinese chemical company, developed and markets the paraquat-based Gramoxone brand, while Chevron has been a distributor of Syngenta’s paraquat products in the United States.

The formation of the paraquat multidistrict litigation (MDL) underscores the legal threat Syngenta faces in the litigation.  An MDL was also formed for the lawsuits filed against Monsanto over allegations that its Roundup weed killers cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma; ultimately tens of thousands of people sued the company for such claims and Monsanto’s owner, Bayer AG, is now facing settlement payouts of more than $10 billion.

Syngenta said in a statement that it agrees with the decision to coordinate the various federal lawsuits before one judge.

“This will help the parties and the courts proceed in a timely and efficient way,” the company said.

Chevron did not respond to a request for comment.

Used since the ’60s

Paraquat has been used in the United States since 1964 as a tool to kill broadleaf weeds and grasses. Farmers often use paraquat before planting crops or before those crops emerge. It has long been known to be extremely dangerous to anyone who ingests even a small amount, and regulators have issued warnings and placed restrictions on its use because of poisoning risks.

The body of science showing links between Parkinson’s disease and paraquat is less clear, having evolved over time. The EPA does not currently confirm a causal link to Parkinson’s disease. But many scientists say the research showing causation is robust.

Several scientific studies have linked paraquat to Parkinson’s, including a large study of U.S. farmers jointly overseen by multiple U.S. government agencies.

The Agricultural Health Study (AHS), which is backed by numerous U.S. agencies and researchers, has found that “exposure to agricultural pesticides may increase a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.” And in 2011, AHS researchers reported that participants who used paraquat or another pesticide were “twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease” as people who were not exposed to those chemicals.

Syngenta maintains that newer and better research, including by AHS scientists, has discounted a tie between paraquat and Parkinson’s.

In addition to the cases brought on behalf of people suffering from Parkinson’s, additionally, a class action lawsuit was filed in federal court in Iowa on May 3 by a law firm representing people who fear they may get the disease in the future.

The suit seeks “equitable relief in the form of medical monitoring, including, but not limited to, the costs of diagnostic testing” for farmers and others exposed to paraquat who are allegedly at “increased risk” for Parkinson’s, according to the legal filing.

Settlement rumors

What was supposed to be the first trial over allegations that Syngenta’s paraquat causes Parkinson’s has been delayed multiple times and the parties may be nearing a settlement, according to sources close to the case.

The trial in the case of Hoffman V. Syngenta is pending in St. Clair County Circuit Court in Illinois and has had multiple trial dates set and then cancelled, the most recent earlier this month.

The lawyer for the plaintiffs in that case had pronounced publicly that he had internal Syngenta documents that would expose the company’s alleged knowledge of connections between paraquat and Parkinson’s.

But Syngenta steadfastly has denied any such evidence exists.

“Syngenta has great sympathy for the health issues faced by the plaintiffs and others suffering from the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease,” the company’s statement reads.  “We care deeply about the health and well-being of farmers and are dedicated to providing them safe and effective products. There is no credible evidence that Paraquat, which has been widely used for more than 55 years, causes Parkinson’s disease.  No peer reviewed study, including the largest study which involved 38,000 farmers, has ever concluded Paraquat causes Parkinson’s disease.  The EPA and other government authorities have extensively analyzed this issue and similarly found no evidence that Paraquat causes Parkinson’s disease. The facts simply do not support the Plaintiffs’ allegations, and we intend to defend this product and our legal position vigorously in court.”

Bayer’s plan for settling future Roundup cancer claims faces broad opposition

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Dozens of U.S. law firms have formed a coalition to fight a new $2 billion settlement proposal by Monsanto owner Bayer AG that aims to contain the company’s ongoing liability related to claims that Roundup herbicides cause a type of cancer known as non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

The settlement is designed to compensate people who have been exposed to Roundup products and either already have NHL or may develop NHL in the future, but who have not yet taken steps to file a lawsuit.

The small group of lawyers who put the plan together with Bayer say it will “save lives” and provide substantial benefits to people who believe they developed cancer from exposure to the company’s herbicide products.

But many lawyers criticizing the plan say if it is approved it would set a dangerous precedent for other types of litigation involving large numbers of people injured by the products or practices of powerful corporations.

“This is not the direction we want the civil justice system to go,” said attorney Gerald Singleton, whose firm has joined with more than 60 other law firms to oppose Bayer’s plan. “There is no scenario under which this is good for plaintiffs.”

Bayer’s settlement plan was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Feb. 3, and must be approved by U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in order to become effective. A prior settlement plan submitted last year was scorned by Chhabria and then withdrawn. The judge has been overseeing the federal multidistrict Roundup litigation involving thousands of plaintiffs from around the United States.

Responses to the settlement plan are due March 3 and a hearing on the matter is set for March 31.

A key concern is that current Roundup users who may develop cancer and want to sue in the future will automatically be subject to terms of the class settlement unless they officially opt out of the settlement within a specific time period. One of the terms they would be subject to would bar them from seeking punitive damages in any future lawsuit.

Those terms and others laid out are wholly unfair to farm workers and others who are expected to develop cancer in the future from exposure to the company’s herbicide products, according to Singleton. The plan benefits Bayer and provides “blood money” to the four law firms that worked with Bayer to design the plan, he said.

Those firms working with Bayer to draft and administer the plan would receive a proposed $170 million if the plan takes effect.

Elizabeth Cabraser, one of the lawyers who crafted the new proposed settlement, said the criticism is not a fair description of the settlement. In truth, she said, the plan “provides significant and urgently-needed outreach, education, healthcare access, and compensation benefits” for people who have been exposed to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides but have not yet developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

“We seek approval of this settlement because it will save lives and enhance quality of life through early diagnosis, assist people… inform them and raise public awareness about the link between Roundup and NHL…” she said.

A spokesman for Bayer did not respond to a request for comment.

The new proposed settlement is aimed at future cases and is separate from the $11 billion Bayer has earmarked to settle existing U.S. Roundup cancer claims. The people impacted by the class settlement proposal are only individuals who have been exposed to Roundup but are not yet in litigation and have taken no steps toward any litigation.

Bayer has been struggling to figure out how to put an end to the Roundup cancer litigation since buying Monsanto in 2018. The company lost all three trials held to date and lost the early rounds of appeals seeking to overturn the trial losses.

Juries in each of the trials found not only that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer but also that Monsanto spent decades hiding the risks.

Though the proposed settlement states that it “addresses the four concerns the Court raised regarding the prior, withdrawn settlement,” Singleton and other lawyers involved in the opposition said the new settlement proposal is just as bad as the first.

In addition to the concerns that class members would not have the right to seek claims for punitive damages, the critics also object to the four-year “standstill” period blocking the filing of new lawsuits. The critics also say the plan for notifying people of the class settlement is not sufficient. Individuals would have 150 days following the notification to “opt out” of the class. If they do not opt out, they are automatically in the class.

Critics also object to the proposed formation of a science panel that would act as a “guidepost” for an “extension of compensation options into the future” and to provide evidence about the carcinogenicity – or not – of Bayer’s herbicides.  Given Monsanto’s documented history of manipulating scientific findings, the science panel work would be suspect, said Singleton.

The initial settlement period would run for at least four years and could be extended after that period.  If Bayer elects not to continue the compensation fund after the initial settlement period, it will pay an additional $200 million as an “end payment” into the compensation fund, the settlement summary states.

“Substantial compensation” offered

The law firms that drafted the agreement with Bayer said in their filing to the court that the settlement is structured to provide potential future plaintiffs with “what most serves their interests,” including an option for “substantial compensation” if they develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The plan calls for the establishment of a compensation fund to make awards of between $10,000 and $200,000 per individual class member. “Accelerated Payment Awards” of $5,000 would be available on an expedited basis, requiring just a showing of exposure and diagnosis.

Those people first exposed to Roundup products at least 12 months prior to their diagnosis would be qualified for awards. Awards of  more than $200,000 could be made for “extraordinary circumstances.” Those qualified class members who were diagnosed with NHL before January 1, 2015, would not receive awards more than $10,000, according to the plan. 

The settlement would provide free legal advice and provide ”support to assist class members in navigating, registering, and applying for Settlement benefits.”

Additionally, the proposal states that the settlement will fund medical and scientific research into the diagnosis and treatment of NHL.

Notably, the plan states that no one will lose their right to sue unless they choose to accept compensation from the compensation fund, and no one needs to make that choice until that individual class member is diagnosed with NHL. They would not be able to seek punitive damages but could seek other compensation.

“Any class members who do not file a claim and accept individual compensation retain their right to sue Monsanto for compensatory damages on any legal theory, including personal injury, fraud, misrepresentation, negligence, fraudulent concealment, negligent misrepresentation, breach of warranty, false advertising, and violation of any consumer protection or unfair and deceptive acts or practices statute,” the plan states.

To alert people to the class action settlement, notices would be mailed/emailed to 266,000 farms, businesses and organizations and government entities where the company’s herbicides could have been used as well as to 41,000 people who have non-Hodgkin lymphoma and asked to receive information about their disease. Additionally posters would be mailed to 2,700 stores asking them to post notices of the class action settlement.

As part of the proposed settlement, Bayer said it would seek permission from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to add information on the labels of its glyphosate-based products such as Roundup that would provide links to access to scientific studies and other information about glyphosate safety. But critics say providing a website links is inadequate and Bayer needs to put a straightforward warning of cancer risk on the weed killing products.

The proposed class action settlement threatens to affect “hundreds of thousands or even millions” of people who have been exposed to Roundup and “raises ‘unique’ and profound questions” under the U.S. Constitution, according to a court filing in opposition to the Bayer plan made by plaintiffs’ lawyer Elizabeth Graham.

Graham told the court that if the plan is approved it could have a “dramatic effect not only on this litigation, but on the future of mass tort litigation.”

Black farmers

 The National Black Farmers Association (NBFA) weighed in on the issue on Wednesday, submitting a lengthy filing with Chhabria’s court that states a “substantial proportion” of its more than 100,000 members “have been exposed to and potentially injured by Roundup, and its active ingredient glyphosate.”

Many of the farmers have already developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma they blame on Roundup use, and “an even larger proportion fear that they will soon develop symptoms,” the NBFA filing states.

The NBFA wants to see Roundup products removed from commerce or other changes made to protect farmers, the filing states.

The concerns of the NBFA need to be addressed by the court, particularly as Bayer looks to “settle a class action with a set of attorneys who purport to be representing the future interests of all farmers who have been exposed to Roundup but are yet to develop the cancers it causes.”

Lawsuits in Australia

As Bayer works to bring an end to Roundup litigation in the United States, the company is also dealing with similar claims by farmers and others in Australia. A class action filed against Monsanto is underway, and the lead plaintiff John Fenton, who applied Roundup as part of farm work. Fenton was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2008.

A series of key dates have been established: Monsanto has until March 1 to provide discovery documents to plaintiffs’ lawyers and June 4 is the deadline set for the exchange of expert evidence.  The parties are to enter into mediation by July 30 and if nothing is resolved the case would go to trial in March 2022.

Fenton said while he would “love the opportunity” to go to trial and tell his story, he hopes mediation will resolve the matter. “I think the consensus is starting to change thanks to what has been happening in the US. Farmers are more aware and I believe they do take more precautions than they used to.

Fenton said he hopes that Bayer ultimately will put a warning label on Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicides.

“At least with a warning the user can make up their own mind about what PPE (personal protective equipment) they choose to wear.”

Bayer’s Monsanto headache persists

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The migraine that is Monsanto doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon for Bayer AG.

Efforts at settling the mass of lawsuits brought in the United States by tens of thousands of people who claim Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides gave them cancer continue to inch forward, but are not addressing all outstanding cases, nor are all plaintiffs offered settlements agreeing to them.

In a letter to U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, Arizona attorney David Diamond said that representations made by the lawyers leading settlement talks with Bayer on behalf of plaintiffs did not accurately reflect the situation for his own clients. He cited a “lack” of “settlement-related experiences” with Bayer and he requested that Judge Chhabria advance several of Diamond’s cases forward for trials.

“Leadership’s representations regarding settlement do not represent my clients’ settlement
related experiences, interests or position,” Diamond told the judge.

Diamond wrote in the letter that he has 423 Roundup clients, including 345 who have cases pending before Chhabria in the multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Alongside the MDL are thousands of plaintiffs whose cases are pending in state courts.

Diamond’s outreach to the judge followed a hearing late last month in which several of the leading firms in the litigation and lawyers for Bayer told Chhabria they were close to resolving most, if not all, of the cases before the judge.

Bayer has reached important 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.

But controversy and conflict have dogged the overall settlement offers.

Several plaintiffs represented by the large firms and who spoke on condition that their names not be used, said they are not agreeing to the terms of the settlements, meaning their cases will be directed into mediation and, if that fails, to trials.

After 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. The company 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 glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Roundup, do cause cancer and that Monsanto spent decades hiding the risks.

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.

Problems Just Keep Mounting

Bayer has threatened to file for bankruptcy if it cannot quell the Roundup litigation and on Wednesday the company issued a profit warning and announced billions in cost cuts, citing a “lower than expected outlook in the agricultural market” amid other factors. The news sent shares in the company tumbling.

In reporting Bayer’s troubles Barron’s noted: “The problems just keep mounting for Bayer and its investors, who by now must be used to regular bouts of disappointing news. The stock has now fallen more than 50% since the Monsanto deal was closed in June 2018. “This latest update only adds to the case for the Monsanto deal being one of the worst in corporate history.”

Dying man asks California Supreme Court to restore jury award in Monsanto Roundup case

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The school groundskeeper who won the first-ever trial over allegations that Monsanto’s Roundup causes cancer is asking the California Supreme Court to restore $250 million in punitive damages awarded by the jury who heard his case but then slashed by an appeals court to $20.5 million.

Notably, the appeal by plaintiff Dewayne “Lee” Johnson has larger implications than his own individual case. Johnson’s lawyer are urging the court to address a legal twist that can leave people such as Johnson who are facing death in the near term with lower damage awards than others expected to live many years in suffering and pain.

“It is long past time for California courts to recognize, as other courts do, that life itself has value and that those who maliciously deprive a plaintiff of years of life should be made to fully compensate that plaintiff and be punished accordingly,” Johnson’s attorneys wrote in their request for the state supreme court review. “The jury ascribed meaningful value to Mr. Johnson’s life, and for that he is grateful. He asks this Court to respect the jury’s decision and restore that value. ”

A unanimous jury found in August 2018 that exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, known best by the brand name Roundup, caused Johnson to develop 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, which was purchased by the German company Bayer AG in 2018, the trial judge reduced the $289 million to $78 million. Monsanto appealed seeking either a new trial or a reduced award. Johnson cross-appealed seeking reinstatement of his full damage award.

The appeals court in the case then cut the award to $20.5 million, citing the fact that Johnson was expected to live only a short time.

The appeals court 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.”

The Johnson trial was covered by media outlets around the world and put a spotlight on Monsanto’s efforts to manipulate the scientific record on glyphosate and Roundup and its efforts to quiet critics and influence regulators.  Lawyers for Johnson presented jurors with internal company emails and other records showing Monsanto scientists discussing ghostwriting scientific papers to try to shore up support for the safety of the company’s products, along with communications detailing plans to discredit critics, and to quash a government evaluation of the toxicity of glyphosate, the key chemical in Monsanto’s products.

Johnson’s trial victory spurred a frenzied filing of tens of thousands of additional lawsuits. Monsanto lost three out of three trials before agreeing this June to pay more than $10 billion to settle close to 100,000 such claims.

The settlement is still in flux, however, as Bayer wrestles with how to forestall future litigation.

In an interview, Johnson said he knew the legal battle with Monsanto could continue for many more years but he was committed to trying to hold the company accountable. He has managed to keep his illness in check so far with regular chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but is not certain how long that will continue.

“I don’t think any amount would be enough to punish that company,” Johnson said.

Bayer asks appeals court to again cut Roundup damage award owed to California groundskeeper with cancer

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Bayer is asking a California appeals court to trim $4 million from the amount of money it owes a California groundskeeper struggling to survive cancer that a trial court found was caused by the man’s exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides.

In a “petition for rehearing” filed Monday with the Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District of California, lawyers for Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG asked the court to cut from $20.5 million to $16.5 million the damages awarded to Dewayne “Lee” Johnson.

The appeals court “reached an erroneous decision based on a mistake of law,” according to the filing by Monsanto. The issue turns on how long Johnson is expected to live. Because evidence at trial found Johnson was expected to live “no more than two years,” he should not receive money for future pain and suffering allocated for any longer than two years – despite the fact that he continues to outlive predictions, the company argues.

Under the calculations requested by Monsanto, the court should cut from $4 million to $2 million the amount ordered for future non-economic damages, (pain and suffering.) That would reduce the overall compensatory damages (past and future) to $8,253,209. While still insisting it should not owe any punitive damages, if punitive damages are awarded they should be tallied at no more than a 1-to-1 ratio against the compensatory, bringing the total to $16,506,418, Monsanto argues in its filing.

Johnson was initially awarded $289 million by a jury in August 2018, making him the first plaintiff to win at the trial level over claims that exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto hid the risks. The trial judge lowered the award to $78 million. Monsanto appealed seeking either a new trial or a reduced award. Johnson cross-appealed seeking reinstatement of his full damage award.

The appeals court ruled last month that there was “abundant” evidence that glyphosate, together with the other ingredients in Roundup products, caused Johnson’s cancer. And the court found that “there was overwhelming evidence that Johnson has suffered, and will continue to suffer for the rest of his life, significant pain and suffering.”

But the court said damages should be reduced to a total of $20.5 million because of the issue of Johnson’s short life expectancy.

Along with its demand for a further reduction in damages, Monsanto is asking the appeals court to grant a rehearing to “correct its analysis” and “either reverse the judgment with directions to enter judgment
for Monsanto or, at the very least, vacate the award of punitive damages.”

The Johnson trial was covered by media outlets around the world and put a spotlight on Monsanto’s efforts to manipulate the scientific record on glyphosate and Roundup and its efforts to quiet critics and influence regulators.  Lawyers for Johnson presented jurors with internal company emails and other records showing Monsanto scientists discussing ghostwriting scientific papers to try to shore up support for the safety of the company’s products, along with communications detailing plans to discredit critics, and to quash a government evaluation of the toxicity of glyphosate, the key chemical in Monsanto’s products.

Tens of thousands of plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against Monsanto making claims similar to Johnson’s, and two additional trials have taken place since the Johnson trial. Both those trials also resulted in large verdicts against Monsanto. Both are also under appeal.

Bayer’s actions to trim damage awards for Monsanto’s trial losses comes as the company seeks to settle close to 100,000 Roundup cancer claims pending around the United States in various courts. Some plaintiffs are unhappy with the settlement terms, and are threatening not to agree to the deal.

Action in Pilliod Appeal

In separate appellate action related to the Roundup litigation, last week lawyers for Alva and Alberta Pilliod filed a brief asking the California appeals court to order damages awards for the married couple totaling $575 million. The elderly couple – both stricken with debilitating cancer they blame on exposure to Roundup – won more than $2 billion at trial, but the trial judge then lowered the jury award to $87 million.

The slashing of the damage award was excessive, according to lawyers representing the couple, and does not sufficiently punish Monsanto for its wrongdoing.

“The three California juries, four trial judges, and three appellate justices who have reviewed Monsanto’s misconduct have unanimously agreed there is “substantial evidence that Monsanto acted with a willful and conscious disregard of others’ safety,” the Pilliod brief states.  “Monsanto’s claim that it is the victim of “injustice” in this case rings increasingly hollow in light of these unanimous and repeated findings.”

The lawyers are asking the court to award a 10-to-1 ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages.

“The true victims of injustice in this case are the Pilliods, who have both suffered from a devastating and debilitating disease because of Monsanto’s malfeasance,” the brief states. “The jury, in determining that decent citizens need not tolerate Monsanto’s reprehensible behavior, rightly concluded that only a substantial punitive damage could punish and deter Monsanto.”

Challenge eyed to class action plan for Bayer Roundup settlement

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A plan to delay any new Roundup cancer claims for years and shift the key question of whether or not the weed killer causes cancer from a jury to a hand-picked panel of scientists faces potential opposition from some of the plaintiffs’ attorneys who initiated and led the mass tort claims against Roundup maker Monsanto, sources close to the litigation said.

Several members of the lead law firms who won three out of three trials pitting cancer patients against Monsanto are considering challenging the terms of a proposed “class action” settlement negotiated between Monsanto owner Bayer AG and a small team of  lawyers who have not previously been at the forefront of the Roundup litigation, the sources said.

The class action settlement proposal is an element of the sweeping $10 billion Roundup litigation settlement Bayer announced June 24.

In each of the trials held to date, juries found that the weight of scientific evidence proved that Roundup exposure caused the plaintiffs to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and that Monsanto covered up the risks. But under the proposal that question would go to a five-member “science panel,” not a jury.

“It’s basically depriving a plaintiff of their constitutional right to a jury trial,” said one source close to the litigation.

The proposed class settlement would apply to anyone exposed to Roundup who had not filed a lawsuit or retained a lawyer as of June 24, 2020, regardless of whether or not that person already had been diagnosed with cancer they believe was due to Roundup exposure.

The plan was put together by Bayer and the law firms of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein; Audet & Partners; The Dugan Law Firm; and lawyer Samuel Issacharoff, Reiss Professor of Constitutional Law at New York University School of Law.

The agreement was reached after nearly one year of “unrelenting efforts” of negotiations, lawyer Elizabeth Cabraser said in a declaration to the court supporting the proposed class settlement.

It would set a “standstill period” in which plaintiffs in the class cannot file new litigation related to Roundup. And it calls for class members to release “any claims against Monsanto for punitive damages and for medical monitoring related to Roundup exposure and NHL.”

Notably, the plan states that rather than go forward with another jury trial, a panel of scientists will first be set up to determine the “right answer” to “the threshold question” of whether or not there is a causal link between Roundup and NHL.

The plan calls for Bayer to pay up to $150 million for the fees and costs of the attorneys’ involved and “class representative service awards” up to $25,000 to each or a total of $100,000.

Overall, Bayer said it would set aside $1.25 billion for the arrangement. The money would be used to compensate class members diagnosed with NHL for the “effects of the delay” in litigation, and to fund research into the diagnosis and treatment of NHL, among other things.

A motion seeking preliminary approval of the class settlement was filed Wednesday with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to be handled by Judge Vince Chhabria. Chhabria has been overseeing numerous Roundup lawsuits that have been bundled together as multidistrict litigation. In shepherding a large number of the lawsuits already filed, Chhabria oversaw one of the Roundup trials, as well as what is known as a “Daubert” hearing, in which he heard days of scientific testimony from both sides and then decided there was sufficient scientific evidence of causation for the litigation to proceed.

The class settlement proposal was negotiated separately from the main settlement made with the lead law firms.

In the main settlement, Bayer agreed to provide $8.8 billion to $9.6 billion to resolve roughly 75 percent of the roughly 125,000 filed and unfiled claims brought by plaintiffs who blame exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup for their development of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  Lawyers representing more than 20,000 additional plaintiffs say they have not agreed to settle with Bayer and those lawsuits are expected to continue to work their way through the court system.

Even though Monsanto lost each of the three trials held to date, Bayer maintain the jury decisions were flawed and based on emotion and not sound science.

Science Panel Selection

Bayer and the lawyers for the proposed class would work together to select the five scientists to sit on what would be a “neutral, independent” panel, according to the plan.  If they cannot agree on the make-up of the panel then each side will choose two members and those four members will choose the fifth.

No scientist who acted as an expert in the federal multidistrict Roundup litigation will be allowed to be on the panel. Notably, neither will anyone who “communicated with any expert” in the litigation about the subject matter.

The panel would have four years to review scientific evidence but can petition for an extension of time if necessary. The determination would be binding on both sides, the plan states. If the panel determines there is a causal link between Roundup and NHL, plaintiffs can go forward to seek trials of their individual claims.

“Knowledge is power and this Settlement empowers class members to hold Monsanto accountable for their injuries if and when the Science Panel determines that general causation is satisfied,” the plan states.

The filing with the federal court requests a preliminary approval hearing within 30 days.

Panicked chemical giants seek leeway in court ban on their weed killers

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Citing an “emergency,” chemical giants BASF and DuPont have asked a federal court to allow them to intervene in a case in which the court earlier this month ordered their dicamba herbicides to be immediately banned along with a dicamba product made by Monsanto owner Bayer AG.

The action by the chemical companies follows a June 3 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had violated the law when it approved the dicamba products developed by Monsanto/Bayer, BASF and DuPont, owned by Corteva Inc.

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 EPA flouted that order, however, telling farmers they could continue to spray the herbicides in question through the end of July.

The consortium of farm and consumer groups that originally filed the case against the EPA rushed back to court last week, asking for an emergency order holding the EPA in contempt.  The court gave the EPA until the end of the day Tuesday, June 16, to respond.

Uproar in Farm Country

The order banning the companies’ dicamba products has triggered an uproar in farm country because many soybean and cotton farmers planted millions of acres of dicamba-tolerant crops developed by Monsanto with the intent of treating weeds in those fields with the dicamba herbicides made by the three companies.

The “dicamba crop system” provides for farmers to plant their fields with dicamba-tolerant crops, which they can then spray “over-the-top” with dicamba weed killer. The system has both enriched the companies selling the seeds and chemicals and and helped farmers growing the special dicamba-tolerant cotton and soy deal with stubborn weeds that are resistant to glyphosate-based Roundup products.

But for the large number of farmers who do not plant the genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant crops, widespread use of dicamba herbicides has meant damage and crop losses because dicamba tends to volatize and drift long distances where it can kill crops, trees and shrubs that are not genetically altered to withstand the chemical.

The companies claimed their new versions of dicamba would not volatize and drift 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 crop damage was reported last year in 18 states, the federal court noted in its ruling.

Many farmers initially celebrated the court ruling and were relieved that their farms and orchards would be spared this summer from the dicamba damage they’ve experienced in prior summers. But the relief was short-lived when the EPA said it would not immediately enforce the court-ordered ban.

In a filing made Friday, BASF pleaded with the court not to enforce an immediate ban and told the court that it will need to close a manufacturing facility in Beaumont, Texas, that currently “operates 24 hours a day nearly continuously through the year” if it is not able to produce its dicamba herbicide brand called Engenia. BASF has spent $370 million in recent years improving the plant and employs 170 people there, the company said.

Noting “significant investments” in its product, BASF also told the court that there is enough of its product currently throughout its “customer channel” to treat 26.7 million acres of soybeans and cotton.  BASF has an additional $44 million worth of the Engenia dicamba product in its possession, enough to treat 6.6 million acres of soybeans and cotton, the company said.

DuPont/Corteva made a similar argument, telling the court in its filing that the ban “directly harms” the company “as well as the many farmers across this country that are in the midst of the growing season.”  It will damage the company’s “reputation” if its herbicide is banned, the company told the court.

Moreover, DuPont/Corteva expects to generate “significant revenues” from the sales of its dicamba herbicide, called FeXapan and will lose that money if the ban is enforced, the company said.

Monsanto was active in the case supporting the EPA approvals prior to the ruling, but both BASF and DuPont asserted wrongly that the court case applied only to Monsanto’s products and not to theirs. The court made it clear, however, that the EPA illegally approved the products made by all three companies.

Led by the Center for Food Safety,  the petition against the EPA was also brought by the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Biological Diversity, and Pesticide Action Network North America.

In asking the court to find the EPA in contempt, the consortium warned of the crop damage to come if the dicamba products are not banned immediately.

“EPA cannot get away with allowing the spraying of 16 million more pounds of dicamba and resulting damage to millions of acres, as well as significant risks to hundreds of endangered species,” the consortium said in its filing. “Something else is at stake too: the rule of law. The Court must act to prevent injustice and uphold the integrity of the judicial process. And given the blatant disregard EPA showed for the Court’s decision, Petitioners urge the Court to hold EPA in contempt.”

Appeals court hears arguments over Monsanto’s first Roundup trial loss

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A California jury decision blaming a Monsanto herbicide for a school groundskeeper’s cancer was deeply flawed and incompatible with the law, a Monsanto attorney told a panel of appellate judges on Tuesday.

The company’s glyphosate-based herbicides – popularly known as Roundup – have the full backing of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and “regulators around the world,” attorney David Axelrad told judges with the California Court of Appeal First Appellate District.

Axelrad said Monsanto had no duty to warn anyone about an alleged cancer risk given the regulatory consensus that its weed killers are safe.

It is “fundamentally unfair to hold Monsanto liable and punish it for a product label that accurately reflects not only EPA determination but a worldwide consensus that glyphosate is not carcinogenic,” he argued in the hour-long hearing. The proceeding was held by telephone because of COVID-19 restrictions on courthouse access.

Associate Justice Gabriel Sanchez questioned the validity of that argument:  “You have animal studies… mechanism studies, you have control case studies,” he said, addressing Monsanto’s attorney. “There are a  number of, it seems, published peer reviewed studies… that suggest a statistically significant relationship between glyphosate and lymphoma. So I don’t know that I would agree with you that it has unanimous consensus. Certainly the regulatory agencies seem to be on one side. But there is a lot of other evidence on the other. ”

The appeal stems from the 2018 jury decision in San Francisco Superior Court that ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million to Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, including $250 million in punitive damages.

The trial judge in the Johnson case lowered the award to $78.5 million. But Monsanto appealed the verdict, asking the court to either reverse the trial decision and enter a judgment for Monsanto or reverse and remand the case for a new trial or at least sharply reduce the damages.  Johnson cross-appealed seeking reinstatement of the full jury award.

Johnson is one of tens of thousands of people from around the United States who have sued Monsanto alleging Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides made by the company cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company spent decades covering up the risks.

Johnson gained “preference” status because doctors said his life expectancy was short and that he would likely die within 18 months of the trial. Johnson has confounded the doctors and remains alive and undergoing regular treatments.

Monsanto’s loss to Johnson marked the first of three Roundup trial losses for the company, which was acquired by Germany’s Bayer AG in June 2018 just as the Johnson trial started.

The jury in the Johnson case specifically found – among other things – that Monsanto was negligent in failing to warn Johnson of the cancer risk of its herbicides. But Monsanto argues that the verdict was flawed because of exclusion of key evidence and what the company’s attorneys call the “distortion of reliable science.”

If the appeals court does not order a new trial, Monsanto asked that the judges at least reduce the portion of the jury award for “future noneconomic damages” from $33 million to $1.5 million and to wipe out the punitive damages altogether.

Johnson’s trial attorneys had argued that he should get $1 million a year for pain and suffering over the 33 additional years that he would likely live if he had not gotten cancer.

But Monsanto’s attorneys have said Johnson should get only $1 million a year for pain and suffering during his actual life expectancy or $1.5 million for an 18-month expected future span.

On Tuesday, Axelrad reiterated that point: “Sure a plaintiff can recover during his lifetime for the pain and suffering that might be occasioned by knowing that he has a shortened life expectancy,” he told the judicial panel. “But you cannot recover for pain and suffering that is unlikely to occur in years where you will no longer be living and that is what the plaintiff received in this case.”

Axelrad told the justices that the company had been falsely painted as engaging in misconduct but in fact had properly followed the science and the law. He said, for example, though Johnson’s attorney had accused Monsanto of ghost-writing scientific papers, company scientists had only made “editorial suggestions” for several papers published in the scientific literature.

“Whether or not Monsanto could have been more forthcoming in identifying its involvement in those studies the bottom line is that those studies produced no false or misleading information and there is no indication that any of the authors of those studies would have changed their opinion had Monsanto not provided editorial comment,” he said.

Axelrad said there was no malice and no basis for punitive damages to be leveled against Monsanto. The company’s defense of its glyphosate-based herbicides over the years has been “entirely reasonable and in good faith,” he said.

“There is absolutely no evidence that Monsanto distributed false, misleading or incomplete information, no evidence that its actions prevented the dissemination of information to regulatory agencies needed to review the scientific evidence, no evidence that its actions compromised the ultimate regulatory decision making and no evidence that Monsanto refused to conduct a test or study in order to conceal information about a risk of harm or prevent the discovery of new information about the science of glyphosate,” he said.

Johnson attorney Mike Miller said that Monsanto’s lawyers were attempting to get the appellate court to retry the facts of the case, which is not its role.

“Monsanto misunderstands the appellate function. It is not to reweigh the facts. The facts that were just argued by Monsanto’s counsel were rejected thoroughly by the jury and rejected by the trial judge…” Miller said.

The appellate court should uphold the damages the jury awarded, including the punitive damages,  because Monsanto’s conduct surrounding the science and safety of its glyphosate herbicides was “egregious,” Miller said.

The evidence presented at the Johnson trial showed Monsanto engaged in the ghostwriting of scientific papers while it failed to adequately test its formulated glyphosate herbicides for carcinogenicity risks. The company then initiated “unprecedented” attacks on the credibility of  international cancer scientists who classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in 2015, he told the judicial panel.

“In punitive damages, as you assess the reprehensibility of Monsanto you must factor in the wealth of Monsanto. And the award must be enough to sting,” said Miller. “Under California law unless it changes the conduct it hasn’t fit the purpose of punitive damages.”

The appellate panel has 90 days to issue a ruling.

Appeal in first Monsanto Roundup cancer trial to be heard in June

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A California appeals court has set a June hearing for cross appeals resulting from the first-ever trial over  allegations that Monsanto’s herbicides cause cancer.

The Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District of California said Thursday that it was setting a hearing for June 2 in the case of Dewayne “Lee” Johnson v. Monsanto. The hearing will take place nearly two years after the start of the Johnson trial and also two years after Bayer AG bought Monsanto.

A unanimous jury awarded Johnson $289 million in August 2018, including $250 million in punitive damages, finding that not only did Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause Johnson to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but that the company knew of the cancer risks and failed to warn Johnson.

The trial judge lowered the total verdict to $78 million but Monsanto appealed the reduced amount. Johnson cross appealed to reinstate the $289 million verdict.

In preparing for oral arguments on the Johnson appeal, the appellate court said it was rejecting an application by the California Attorney General to file an amicus brief on Johnson’s side.

The Johnson trial was covered by media outlets around the world and put a spotlight on questionable Monsanto conduct. Lawyers for Johnson presented jurors with internal company emails and other records showing Monsanto scientists discussing ghostwriting scientific papers to try to shore up support for the safety of the company’s products, along with communications detailing plans to discredit critics, and to quash a government evaluation of the toxicity of glyphosate, the key chemical in Monsanto’s products.

Internal documents also showed that Monsanto expected the International Agency for Research on Cancer would classify glyphosate as a probable or possible human carcinogen in March of 2015 (the classification was as a probable carcinogen) and worked out a plan in advance to discredit the cancer scientists.

Tens of thousands of plaintiffs have filed suit against Monsanto making claims similar to Johnson’s, and two additional trials have taken place since the Johnson trial. Both those trials also resulted in large verdicts against Monsanto.

In setting Johnson’s appeal date, the appellate court said it “recognizes the time-sensitive nature of these consolidated cases and has continued to give them its highest priority despite current emergency conditions” created by the spread of coronavirus.

The appellate court movement on the Johnson case comes as Bayer is reportedly trying to renege on negotiated settlements with several U.S. law firms representing many of those plaintiffs.