Speculation Over Settlement as Roundup Cancer Trial Postponed

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The mysterious delay of what was supposed to be a closely watched St. Louis showdown over claims that Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides cause cancer has stirred speculation that a settlement may be in the offing and heartened investors in Monsanto’s German owner Bayer, who feared a fourth trial loss.

The trial in St. Louis, Monsanto’s former long-time hometown, was set to begin Aug. 19 and feature live testimony from several Monsanto executives subpoenaed by the legal team representing plaintiff Sharlean Gordon. Gordon is one of roughly 18,000 plaintiffs suing Monsanto alleging not only that the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company knew about the risks but rather than warning users instead acted to suppress and manipulate scientific research.

The three previous trials, which Monsanto lost, were all held in California courts where Monsanto executives could not be compelled to testify live in front of a jury. But in St. Louis they would almost certainly be forced to appear. Plaintiff’s counsel had plans to call former Monsanto Chairman Hugh Grant, as well as company scientists William Heydens, Donna Farmer, and William Reeves. Larry Kier, a Monsanto consultant who became caught up in a ghost-writing scandal, was also on the plaintiff’s list to be called as a witness.

Bayer had its own firepower headed for St. Louis in the form of famed attorney Phil Beck. The company has tried three different legal teams for the three trials so far, adding Beck to the case this summer. Beck, of the Chicago-based Barlit Beck law firm, headed George W. Bush’s trial team in the Florida recount litigation that determined the 2000 presidential election. Beck was tapped to represent the United States in United States v. Microsoft,  in one phase of the Microsoft antitrust action.

It was late Monday afternoon when St. Louis County Court Judge Brian May informed court personnel that the Gordon v. Monsanto trial would be postponed until January. May said he would issue an order at a later date, according to court spokeswoman Christine Bertelson.

Judge May is on vacation this week but wanted to make his intentions clear now because the process of gathering a jury pool for the trial was getting underway. He wanted that process halted to avoid wasting court time and resources and the time of prospective jurors given the trial was being delayed, Bertelson said.

Legal observers said the judge would not delay a trial this close to the opening unless both parties had agreed to the continuance. Neither would comment publicly on whether or not settlement talks were underway for the Gordon case.

Both parties have made it known that they wish to negotiate a global settlement in the Roundup litigation, though sources associated both with Bayer and plaintiffs’ counsel said potential settlement talks may focus initially on the Gordon case alone, or possibly Gordon’s claims along with additional St. Louis plaintiffs.

In a call with investors on July 30, Bayer CEO Werner Baumann said  the company was “constructively engaging in the mediation process” and would “only consider a settlement if financially reasonable and if we can achieve finality of the overall litigation.”

Baumann has come under withering criticism for his touting of the $63 billion acquisition of Monsanto. Within only two months after closing the deal, Bayer share prices plummeted when the first Roundup cancer trial resulted in a unanimous jury verdict of $289 million against the company. Total jury awards in the three trials to date have surpassed $2 billion in punitive damages alone, though judges in the three cases have lowered the punitive awards.

Investors lodged a vote of no confidence against Baumann earlier this year due to the roughly 40 percent drop in share value attributed to the Monsanto litigation.

Investors generally would welcome a global settlement of the litigation, according to investment analysts following Bayer. There has been speculation in the analyst community that a settlement could top $10 billion.

Gordon, 52, was expected to be a particularly compelling plaintiff, according to her attorney Aimee Wagstaff. Gordon, a mother of two, has suffered multiple rounds of unsuccessful cancer treatment for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma, as the cancer has spread through her body over many years. She recently suffered a setback with a diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS).

Gordon developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup herbicides for 25 years at her residence in South Pekin, Illinois. Gordon’s stepfather, who also used Roundup at the family home, died of cancer.  The case  is actually derived from a larger case filed in July 2017 on behalf of more than 75 plaintiffs. Gordon is the first of that group to go to trial.

Monsanto fails bid to banish experts from St. Louis Roundup cancer trial

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Monsanto is not finding an early hometown advantage as it prepares for the next Roundup cancer trial after the St. Louis judge who will oversee the trial denied Monsanto’s motion for summary judgment and denied the company’s request to ban experts scheduled to testify for the plaintiff.

Before selling to Germany-based Bayer AG last year, Monsanto was headquartered in the St. Louis, Missouri area for decades, and still maintains a large employment and philanthropic presence there. Some observers have speculated that a St. Louis jury may give Monsanto a good shot at its first trial win  in the sprawling litigation. The company lost the first three trials, all of which took place in California.

But St. Louis County Judge Brian May is not doing Monsanto any favors. In twin rulings, May denied Monsanto’s motion for summary judgment before trial and rejected the company’s request to exclude the opinions of seven expert witnesses that the plaintiff’s attorneys plan to call to testify.

Judge May also ordered that the trial can be recorded and televised via Courtroom View Network from its start on Aug. 19 until conclusion.

The plaintiff in the case is Sharlean Gordon, a cancer-stricken woman in her 50s who used Roundup herbicides for more than 15 years at her residence in South Pekin, Illinois.  Gordon v. Monsanto is actually derived from a case filed in July 2017 on behalf of more than 75 plaintiffs. Gordon is the first of that group to go to trial.

Her case, like that of the thousands of others filed around the United States, alleges use of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto has long known about the potential risks but instead of warning users has actively worked to suppress information.

Gordon was diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a subtype of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, in 2006.  She was told her cancer was in remission in 2007 but it returned in 2008.  Since then she has gone through two stem cell transplants and spent a lengthy period in a nursing home. She remains very debilitated, according to attorney Aimee Wagstaff.

Wagstaff was the winning attorney in the second Roundup cancer trial, Edwin Hardeman v. Monsanto. In that federal court case, a San Francisco jury returned a verdict of approximately $80 million for Hardeman, including punitive damages of $75 million.  U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria reduced the punitive damages awarded Hardeman to $20 million from $75 million, putting the total award at  $25,313,383.02.

The jury awards in the other two Roundup cancer trials have also been reduced by the trial judges. In the most recent trial a judge cut the damages awarded an elderly couple from approximately $2 billion to $86 million. And in the first Roundup cancer trial, the judge cut a $289 million verdict awarded to a California school groundskeeper down to $78 million.  

Sick Children Among Cancer Victims Suing Monsanto Over Roundup

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A 12-year-old boy suffering from cancer is among the newest plaintiffs taking on Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG in growing litigation over the safety of Roundup herbicides and Monsanto’s handling of scientific concerns about the products.

Lawyers for Jake Bellah were in court Monday in Lake County Superior Court in Lakeport, California arguing that Bellah’s young age and diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) qualified him for “trial preference,” or a speedy trial. In their motion, lawyers for the Baum Hedlund law firm of Los Angeles asked for a trial that would begin before the end of this year, within 120 days after a judge’s order if their motion is granted.

Monsanto lawyers opposed the request, arguing that the company would need more time to prepare a defense given the unusual scientific issues of surrounding alleged causation of cancer in a child.

The four plaintiffs who have already had trials against Monsanto were all adults diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and all were victorious. Bellah would likely be the first case of a child with cancer to challenge Monsanto before a jury.

In May, a jury in Oakland, California ordered Monsanto to pay more than $2 billion in damages to Alberta and Alva Pilliod, a married couple who both suffer from NHL they blame on exposure to Roundup. That followed a verdict in March in which a San Francisco jury ordered Monsanto to pay roughly $80 million in damages to plaintiff Edwin Hardeman who also suffers from NHL.  On July 15, the judge in that case reduced the award to $25 million. Last year jurors in state court in San Francisco ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million  in damages to school groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, who has been diagnosed with a terminal type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  The judge in that case lowered the total verdict to $78 million and the verdict is now on appeal.

Lawyers representing Bellah said the child was exposed to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide products repeatedly over many years as he played in his family’s yard and around their garden area where his father frequently sprayed the chemicals.

Bellah developed B-cell lymphoma and has been hospitalized and treated with chemotherapy and is currently in remission, according to Pedram Esfandiary, one of the family’s attorneys.

We’re looking forward to having more trials,” said Esfandiary. “It’s unfortunate that the victims include not only hardworking folks like Lee and the Pilliods but also people at the start of their lives.  He is entitled to his day in court.”

A ruling on the Bellah request for a speedy trial is expected by the end of July.

Another lawsuit brought on behalf of a sick child was filed July 12 in Alameda County Superior Court in California, also by the Baum Hedlund firm.

In that case, the plaintiff is identified only as G.B. Bargas. Her father Richard Bargas is listed as a plaintiff individually and on behalf of his daughter. The child’s mother Ronza Bargas is also a plaintiff. The complaint alleges that the child was diagnosed with NHL as a result of exposure to Roundup.

The addition of children to the mass litigation comes as Bayer is exploring whether or not to try to settle the cases. The company’s shares have been battered by the repeated losses in court, and by the revelations of questionable Monsanto conduct with respect to scientific and public scrutiny of its products.

In his court ruling reducing the damages awarded in the Hardeman case, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said that Monsanto’s actions were “reprehensible.” He said evidence showed “Monsanto employees crassly attempting to combat, undermine or explain away challenges to Roundup’s safety.”

He said the company showed a “lack of concern about the risk that its product might be carcinogenic.”

Moms Exposed to Monsanto Weed Killer Means Bad Outcomes for Babies

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Concerns about the world’s most widely used herbicide are taking a new twist as researchers unveil data that indicates pervasive use of Monsanto Co.’s weed killer could be linked to pregnancy problems.

Researchers looking at exposure to the herbicide known as glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup branded herbicides, said they tested and tracked 69 expectant mothers and found that the presence of glyphosate levels in their bodily fluids correlated with unfavorable birth outcomes. The research is still in preliminary stages and the sample size is small, but the team is scheduled to present their findings on Thursday at a conference put on by the Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN) in Washington, D.C.

“This is a huge issue,” said Paul Winchester, medical director of the neonatal intensive care unit at the Franciscan St. Francis Health system and professor of clinical pediatrics at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Indiana. He said this is the first U.S. study to demonstrate glyphosate is present in pregnant women. “Everyone should be concerned about this.”

Glyphosate is a popular agricultural pesticide, used widely in farming operations around the world. It’s commonly sprayed directly on many food crops and those used for livestock feed. But it has become the subject of hot debate over the last few years because of research that links the herbicide to types of cancer and other health ailments. Monsanto is being sued by hundreds of people who claim they or their loved ones developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma because of exposure to glyphosate-based Roundup. Monsanto, the EPA and other regulatory bodies, say evidence of carcinogenicity is lacking and the chemical is among the safest of all pesticides used in food production. But documents discovered in the course of the litigation indicate the company may have manipulated scientific research to hide evidence of harm.

The team that presented their report Wednesday included scientists who have long been skeptical of Monsanto’s products as well as medical researchers who have come to have concerns about glyphosate and other pesticides through their study of pediatric health problems.

Winchester, who led the urine sampling study, said his look at glyphosate and pregnant women is in very early stages and he and co-researchers are hoping to launch a much larger project later this year. The preliminary work detected glyphosate in the urine of 63 of 69 (91%) pregnant women receiving prenatal care through an Indiana obstetric practice. Researchers collected the data over two years, from 2015-2016, and found that higher glyphosate levels in women correlated with significantly shorter pregnancies and with lower adjusted birth weights.

Correlation does not prove causation. Still, the findings are worrisome because low birth weights and shortened gestation are seen as risk factors for many health and/or neurodevelopmental problems over the course of an individual’s life. Low birth-weight babies are more likely to have diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and to be obese, research shows.

People can be exposed to glyphosate through food and through association with farming operations that spray glyphosate on corn and soybean production fields. Both soy and corn, along with several other crops, have been genetically engineered to tolerate direct application of glyphosate. Farmers often also use glyphosate directly on wheat, oats and other non-genetically engineered crops shortly before harvest, leading to residues in grain-based food products.

Glyphosate use has climbed sharply over the last two decades with the rise of genetically engineered crops and in connection with the subsequent spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds. Dr. Charles Benbrook, one of the scheduled presenters at the CEHN conference, projects that by 2020, “more acres of cropland in the Midwest will harbor three or more glyphosate-resistant weeds than one or none.” Farmers have been trying to fight the resistant weeds with more glyphosate and other chemicals. New crops engineered to tolerate 2,4-D and dicamba herbicides mixed with glyphosate are being rolled out now. Industry data indicates herbicide use is expected to continue to climb, making it ever more critical for scientists and medical professional to get a handle on exposure levels and impacts on reproductive health, the team said in their presentation.

Winchester has been conducting research into pesticide exposures and impacts on pregnant women for many years, including in-depth work on atrazine, another herbicide popular with farmers. He said he was surprised to see such a high percentage of women tested showing glyphosate in their urine. He said much more research on glyphosate impacts is needed, and more data is needed on levels of exposure through food. He was sharply critical of the U.S. government, which routinely skips testing for glyphosate residues in food even though regulatory agencies test thousands of food products each year for residues of other types of pesticides, including atrazine.

He and the other researchers are calling on the Centers for Disease Control to include glyphosate and its primary metabolite, aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA) in biomonitoring work it does to track levels of pesticides and other chemicals in urine and blood.

“Is this level of exposure safe or not? We’ve been told it is, but exposures haven’t been measured,” Winchester said. “It’s mind-boggling.”

(First posted in The Huffington Post)