Litigation against Syngenta grows; lawyers fight over evidence and trial dates

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Syngenta AG is facing a growing number of U.S. lawsuits over allegations that its paraquat herbicide causes Parkinson’s disease, with a Fresno, California man pushing for an expedited trial that potentially would start within the next few months, and multiple plaintiffs’ lawyers jockeying for power and influence over future trial proceedings.

Plaintiff George Isaak used paraquat to treat weeds on orchard and vineyard property from 1964 through 2004, mixing, loading and spraying the pesticide routinely before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in May of 2020, according to his lawsuit.

Isaak used a 200-gallon “spraying rig” on the 60-acre farm where he raised peaches, nectarines, almonds, pistachios, and grapes before retiring in 2005. Isaak, 84, now has such severe Parkinson’s symptoms that he has suffered several falls, finds it hard to speak, and is confined to a wheelchair, according to his lawyers.

Isaak attorney Mike Miller said his client has been left with “horrible” injuries from Parkinson’s.

Isaak should now be given a trial date no later than January due to his decline in cognition and overall debilitation to his health, according to a court filing by The Miller Firm and co-counsel.

Isaak “had no reason to suspect that chronic, low-dose exposure to Paraquat could cause neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease,” the lawsuit states. But evidence will show, the lawsuit contends, that the paraquat use was a “substantial factor in causing Plaintiff George Isaak to suffer severe and permanent physical injuries, pain, mental anguish, and disability, and will continue to do so for the remainder of Plaintiff George Isaak’s life.”

Carol Isaak, George Isaak’s wife, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit and is seeking a claim for loss of consortium.

There are hundreds of cases pending in state and federal courts around the country, according to a June 22 court filing. The plaintiffs in those cases all allege Syngenta was aware of the risks but failed to warn users.

Syngenta, which is owned by a Chinese chemical company, has denied the allegations, and is seeking to dismiss, or limit the lawsuits. The company filed a “partial motion to dismiss” in federal court on Sept. 13, citing various state law provisions in asking the court to dismiss claims “for breach of warranty, fraud, and violation of certain consumer protection statutes.”

Along with Syngenta, the defendants include Chevron Phillips Chemical Cmpany LP, and Chevron USA, Inc. All have denied any liability.

Infighting among plaintiffs’ lawyers

Syngenta said in a Sept. 17 court filing that it opposes the granting of an expedited trial, known as a “preference” trial, for Isaak.

“Mr. Isaak has presented no evidence regarding his alleged paraquat exposures, and his medical records and doctor’s declaration cast doubt on whether he actually has Parkinson’s disease,” the company said in its filing.

Syngenta noted that there are many other plaintiffs expected to request preference trials.

In addition to the objection from Syngenta, Isaak’s lawyers effort to obtain court approval for a preference trial has come into conflict with an effort by other attorneys representing other plaintiffs in the paraquat litigation.

Plaintiffs law firm Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger is seeking to create a special committee made up of plaintiffs’ lawyers that would evaluate and screen cases seeking preference trials. Typically such requests for expedited trials go directly to a judge.

The firm said a committee was needed because many of the plaintiffs in the overall paraquat litigation would “likely qualify” for preference. They are proposing a protocol implemented by a five-member committee of plaintiffs’ lawyers.

“The majority of the plaintiffs, including both filed and unfiled cases known to plaintiffs’ counsel, are over the age of 65. The reality of these cases is that there are many plaintiffs, as well as many potential plaintiffs, whose disease progression is unstable and who have a real and substantial danger of losing their ability to testify, or losing their ability to meaningfully utilize their compensation, if their trials are not prioritized,” the firm stated in a court filing.

The firm added in a separate filing: “An uncontrolled race to file competing preference motions risks sending a plaintiff to trial who does not represent the plaintiff population. And should the initial trials be ultimately unsuccessful, it jeopardizes the rights of all remaining plaintiffs in the proceeding.”

Isaak’s lawyers oppose the formation of such a committee and filed a memorandum explaining that opposition on Sept. 17, arguing that the use of a preference committee is “unconstitutional on its face.”

Whether or not a plaintiff meets the criteria deserving of a preference trial should not be left up to the arbitrary nature of a committee of other plaintiffs’ attorneys, they said.

The attorneys registering opposition to the preference committee additionally allege that the Walkup firm has a conflict of interest because it has already reached a “large, lucrative” settlement agreement with Syngenta for some of its clients, and until that deal is finalized, Syngenta and the other defendants still could walk away from the deal.

Thus, the Walkup firm is “a conflicted law firm,” the attorneys allege. In addition to The Miller Firm, the law firms registering opposition are the Wagstaff Law Firm and Brady Law Group.

A hearing on the matter is set for Sept. 30.

Battle over discovery documents

The lawyers for plaintiffs have also been fighting over access to internal Syngenta corporate documents and other evidence obtained as part of court-ordered “discovery.”

Over the last few years, Syngenta and the other defendants turned over millions of documents to Missouri lawyer Steve Tillery in his representation of a paraquat lawsuit titled Hoffman V. Syngenta, that was pending in St. Clair County, Illinois. The Hoffman case had been set to go to trial earlier this year but Tillery and the defendants agreed to a settlement and no trial was held.

The lawyers for the plaintiffs pursuing trials want to make use of the materials already turned over in the Hoffman case, including internal corporate documents as well as depositions and expert reports. Tillery and Syngenta objected to sharing some of the materials but were ordered to do so by the federal judge overseeing consolidated paraquat proceedings in the Northern District of California.

Scientific studies

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.  Farmers use paraquat in the production of many crops, including corn, soy and cotton. The Agricultural Health Study (AHS) said it found that “exposure to agricultural pesticides may increase a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.” In 2011, AHS researchers reported that “participants who used paraquat or rotenone were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as people who didn’t use these chemicals.”

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

A recent paper from AHS researchers stated that “Extensive literature suggests an association between general pesticide use and Parkinson’s disease (PD). However, with few exceptions, little is known about associations between specific pesticides and PD.”

Because the paraquat litigation is expected to continue to grow, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) in Washington, D.C. approved the consolidation of pretrial proceedings in the Northern District of California, the same federal court that is overseeing the U.S. Roundup MDL.

Similarly, several other cases are consolidated in Judicial Council Coordination Proceedings in Contra Costa County Superior Court in California.

New analysis of glyphosate industry studies finds them outdated, flawed

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See Carey Gillam’s article in The Guardian, Corporate studies asserting herbicide safety show many flaws, new analysis finds (July 2, 2021). In this post we provide links to the 53 once-secret studies and related materials. 

Questions about the safety of glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) have persisted for years, as scientific research has split over whether or not the widely used weed killing chemical introduced by Monsanto in the 1970s causes cancer or other human health problems.

A number of independent studies show links between glyphosate herbicides and cancer and other health problems, leading the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2015 to classify glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.

But Monsanto, purchased by Bayer AG in 2018, has maintained glyphosate is not carcinogenic, nor does it cause other health problems when used as directed. Other large chemical companies that sell glyphosate or related products echo Monsanto’s safety assurances.

Regulators in Europe and the United States, Canada and elsewhere have affirmed the corporate assertions of glyphosate safety. They point to decades of tests conducted by or for the companies that have not been published but which regulators have reviewed, as well as published studies in the scientific literature.

The corporate studies have long been kept secret, even by regulators. But in Europe, litigation by a group of European Parliament lawmakers led to the release of dozens of such studies.

A consumer advocacy group, SumOfUs, provided more than 50 studies to two independent scientists for review – Armen Nersesyan and Siegfried Knasmueller, both from the Institute of Cancer Research, Department of Medicine at the Medical University of Vienna.

Knasmueller, the lead author, is an expert in genetic toxicology and along with his work at the cancer institute is editor-in-chief of two prominent scientific journals, including Mutation Research – Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis.

The goal of the evaluation was to determine if the industry studies examined comply with current international guidelines for chemical testing. The studies are those concerning the genotoxic properties of glyphosate.

The resulting analysis was released July 2, 2021 and concluded that the bulk of the industry studies were outdated and did not meet current guidelines. An array of shortcomings and flaws were found in the studies, rendering most of them unreliable, according to the analysis.

In fact, of the 53 studies submitted to regulators by the companies, only two were acceptable under current internationally recognized scientific standards, said Knasmueller.

Knasmueller said there are more reliable methods for detecting carcinogens but those were not used in the industry tests. Read the evaluation here. 

Regulatory renewal sought

The analysis of the older studies comes as the companies that sell glyphosate products are seeking reauthorization in Europe and trying to fight against calls for restrictions and bans on glyphosate across the globe.

In June 2021, the European Union’s (EU) Assessment Group on Glyphosate (AGG) issued an 11,000-page draft report concluding that glyphosate is safe when used as directed and does not cause cancer. The finding is based in part on a dossier of roughly 1,500 studies submitted to European regulators by the “Glyphosate Renewal Group (GRG),” a collection of companies that includes Bayer.

Bayer confirmed that the older studies were included in the new dossier given to European regulators, but said the GRG was “required to submit all genotoxicity studies that have been conducted, including those submitted in past registration review cycles.” The company said the dossier also includes “new genotoxicity studies conducted since the previous re-approval of glyphosate and a vast review of thousands of published scientific publications regarding glyphosate.”

The companies are seeking the renewal of the EU authorization of glyphosate. Current authorization in Europe expires in December 2022. The companies say they also gave regulators a “literature review” of around 12,000 published scientific articles on glyphosate.

 The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) are organizing public consultations to start in September.

The Knasmueller analysis drew both criticism and support from a mix of scientists who reviewed the work. Here are two comments:

Paul Demers,  director of the Occupational Cancer Research Centre, Ontario Health, in Canada:

The classification of the carcinogenicity of glyphosate has been particularly contentious with international bodies disagreeing not only on areas of interpretation but even on which studies to consider. The critical evaluation, using the latest OECD criteria, of 53 studies submitted to Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung and European Food Safety Authority is a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate on the carcinogenicity of glyphosate. The observation by the authors that few of these studies met the OECD criteria should be considered by regulatory authorities tasked with protecting workers and the public. Personally, I agree with the approaches for evaluation taken by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which were used for glyphosate. That said, I also believe that there needs to room for scientific debate and disagreements on issues of interpretation, criteria for evaluation, and even what studies to include. However, there should not be a debate on transparency when it comes to the evidence considered by public bodies in determining the safety of chemicals.  Studies of health effects, with sufficient details regarding the methods used and the results, need to be accessible and open to the critical eyes of the scientific community and other concerned parties.” 

Raymond Tice, retired scientist, U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, former  President of the U.S. Environmental Mutagen Society: “An analysis of the experimental data supporting the safety of any chemical should be conducted using systematic review methodology… which takes into account not only the completeness of the information but also categorizes the risk of bias, whether positive or negative.  Clearly, this was not conducted by EFSA or by Dr. Knasmueller.  In general, it is not appropriate to disregard all studies that do not meet current standards, but rather to consider the results in terms of their limitations. Overall, It seems to me that Knasmueller is selective (i.e., exhibits bias) in what he presents and does not present. At the same time, I would fault EFSA for not doing due diligence in what they considered…  Also, I agree that there is a suggestion that (glyphosate) is linked to the induction of oxidative stress which can result in DNA damage (i.e., oxidative stress is one of the key characteristics of carcinogens) but would be expected to have a threshold below which damage is not likely to result in an adverse effect.”

Once-secret studies

See the full analysis, authors’ comments, industry summaries, a list of studies submitted for the current European Union re-authorization, and links to 53 previously secret corporate glyphosate studies below:

Reference-List-of-Glyphosate-Studies-submitted-for-the-Renewal-of-Approval-AIR5-of-Glyphosate-in-2020-EN

European Assessment Group on Glyphosate report on glyphosate renewal

Evaluation of the scientific quality of industry studies of genotoxic properties of glyphosate

Comments concerning the mutagenic/genotoxic properties of glyphosate

Toxicological and Metabolism Studies summary by industry

Albaugh 2014 glyphosate reverse mutation assay Switzerland

Syngenta 2012 glyphosate technical micronucleus assay in bone marrow cells of the mouse

Dow Chemical 2012 Micronucleus test of glyphosate TGAI in mice

Industrias Afrasa 2012 reverse mutation with glyphosate

Helm 2010 Reverse Mutation Assay glyphosate using bacteria

Helm 2010 reverse mutation assay 

Helm 2010 mutagenicity of glyphosate testing

Helm 2009 mutagenicity study of glyphosate Germany

Helm 2009 Micronucleus test of glyphosate in bone marrow cells of rat

Syngenta 2009 glyphosate reverse mutation

Jingma Chemicals China 2008 evaluation of the mutagenic potential of glyphosate by reverse mutation assay 

Jingma 2008 evaluation of mutagenic potential of glyphosate by micronucleus assay in mice

Syngenta 2008 glyphosate micronucleus assay in bone marrow cells of the mouse

Helm 2007 Mammalian erythrocyte micronucleus test for glyphosate

Helm Do Brasil 2007 Bacterial reverse mutation test glyphosate

Nufarm 2007 reverse mutation glyphosate technical 05068

Nufarm 2007 1061403 reverse mutation glyphosate technical 05067

Nufarm 2007 1061402 reverse mutation glyphosate technical 05070 

Nufarm 2005 glyphosate technical micronucleus test in the mouse

Monsanto 1998 Mouse micronucleus screening assay of MON-0818

Zeneca Glyphosate 1998 acid Invitro 

Cheminova 1996 reverse mutation glyphosate Brazil

Cheminova 1996 A micronucleus study in mice for the product GILFOS

Zeneca 1996 glyphosate mutagenicity potential

Zeneca 1996 Glyphosate acid mouse bone marrow micronucleus test

Zeneca 1996 glyphosate acid mouse lymphoma gene mutation assay

Sanko 1995 glyphosate in vitro cytogenetics

Sanko 1995 glyphosate DNA Repair Test

Sankyo 1995 reverse mutation study 

Mastra and Maruzen Kako 1995 Technical glyphosate

Mastra and Maruzen Kako 1995 reverse mutation assay glyphosate

Agrichem 1995 Evaluation of ability of glyphosate to induce chromosome aberrations

Feinchemie Schwebda 1994 DNA repair test with primary rat hepatocytes

Feinchemie Schwebda 1994 in vivo mammalian bone marrow cytogenetic test

Feinchemie Schwebda 1993 Mutagenicity-micronucleus glyphosate test in swiss albino mice

Feinchemie Schwebda 1992 Dominant lethal test in Wistar rats

Monsanto 1992 Mouse micronucleus study of Roundup

Monsanto 1992 glyphosate mutagenicity assay on Roundup

Monsanto 1992 Mouse micronucleus study of RODEO glyphosate formulation

Monsanto 1992 glyphosate mutagenicity assay on RODEO herbicide

Monsanto 1992 mouse micronucleus study of DIRECT formulation

Monsanto 1992 glyphosate mutagenicity potential DIRECT brand

Hoechst Dodigen 4022 1992 study of mutagenic potential in strains of salmonella and E Coli

Hoechst Dodigen 4022 1992 Chromosome aberrations in vitro in V79 Chinese hamster cells

Cheminova 1991 #12323 glyphosate mutagenicity test

Cheminova 1991 #12324 Mutagenicity test micronucleus glyphosate

Cheminova 1991 #12325 glyphosate mutagenicity test in vitro mammalian cell gene mutation test

Monsanto 1990 Ames Salmonella mutagenicity assay of MON 0818

Monsanto 1983 In vivo bone marrow cytogenetics study of glyphosate in Sprague-Dawley rats

Monsanto 1983 glyphosate gene mutation assay

Monsanto 1981 Ames salmonella mutagenicity assay of MON 8080

Monsanto 1980 Dominant lethal mutagenicity assay with technical glyphosate in mice

Institute of Environmental Toxicology 1978 Glyphosate report of mutagenic study with bacteria

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.”

Another delay for trial set to examine allegation that Syngenta weed killer causes Parkinson’s

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A highly anticipated first-ever trial pitting a group of farmers against the global agricultural giant Syngenta AG over allegations that Syngenta’s paraquat weed killer causes Parkinson’s disease has been delayed again and may not take place at all, according to sources close to the case.

The trial in the case of Hoffman V. Syngenta was scheduled to start June 1 in St. Clair County Circuit Court in Illinois before Associate Judge Kevin Hoerner. Previously it was set to begin May 10, and prior to that it had a trial date in April.

The cancellation of the June 1 trial date came amid speculation that the parties are deep into settlement talks. No new trial date has yet been set, according to a St. Clair County Circuit Court clerk.

The plaintiffs in the case developed Parkinson’s after repeated exposure to paraquat products, specifically Syngenta’s widely used Gramoxone brand. Three of the original plaintiffs in the case have died, including plaintiff Thomas Hoffman.

The trial was to be livestreamed by Courtroom View Network, and plaintiffs’ attorney Steve Tillery had vowed to unveil decades of internal corporate documents he said would show Syngenta knew its paraquat-based weed killer causes Parkinson’s disease, a disorder that impacts nerve cells in the brain and  leads in advanced cases to severe physical debilitation and often dementia and death.

Tillery would not respond to a request for comment, and a Syngenta spokesman also declined to comment.

Also named as defendants in the case are Chevron Phillips Chemical Co., formed as a joint venture between Chevron USA and Phillips 66. Chevron helped distribute Syngenta’s products in the United States. Illinois agricultural cooperative Growmark is also a defendant for its role in supplying paraquat products.

There are currently at least 20 lawsuits filed in multiple state and federal courts across the country on behalf of plaintiffs who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and claim Syngenta’s paraquat weed killers are to blame.

The caseload is expected to grow rapidly, and on Thursday the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation heard arguments on a motion filed by the Texas-based law firm of Fears Nachawati asking that pending paraquat lawsuits be consolidated for pretrial proceedings in the Northern District of California, the same federal court where Roundup litigation was consolidated.

Additionally, a class action lawsuit was filed in federal court in Iowa on May 3. 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.

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.

Farmers use paraquat in the production of many crops, including corn, soy and cotton. The Agricultural Health Study (AHS) said it found that “exposure to agricultural pesticides may increase a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.” In 2011, AHS researchers reported that “participants who used paraquat or rotenone were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as people who didn’t use these chemicals.”

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

Another loss for Bayer over Roundup cancer claims as appeals court shoots down preemption argument

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In a blow to Monsanto owner Bayer AG’s bid to block continued liability over Roundup cancer litigation, a federal appeals court shot down the company’s argument that federal regulatory backing of the company’s herbicides preempts claims made by cancer patient Edwin Hardeman.

In a ruling issued Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of Hardeman, and said Monsanto erred in asserting that the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) preempts state laws and a duty to warn.

The company’s primary hope since losing all three of three trials held to date is to get a U.S. Supreme Court finding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of its products under FIFRA  essentially bars complaints that Monsanto didn’t warn of any cancer risk with its herbicides.

The preemption argument is seen as weak by many legal experts because a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case titled Bates v. Dow Agrosciences established that the EPA’s approval of a product does not rule out claims of a failure to warn brought under state law, and FIFRA expressly states that EPA approval doesn’t constitute an absolute defense.

“It’s a dead duck in the water,” Hardeman lawyer Aimee Wagstaff said of the preemption defense. “They need to let that one go.”

Unanimous verdict

Hardeman won a unanimous jury verdict in March 2019 claiming that exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide products caused his non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He initially was awarded $80 million but the punitive damages were reduced by the trial judge from $75 million to $20 million, leaving him with a total award of approximately $25 million.

The evidence in his case, “showed the carcinogenic risk of glyphosate was knowable at the time of Hardeman’s exposure,” the appeals court ruling states.

The Hardeman case is one of tens of thousands pending against Monsanto for which Bayer is liable after purchasing the company in June of 2018. After Bayer bought Monsanto, four plaintiffs in three trials  won damages against the company. In all, roughly 100,000 U.S. plaintiffs have alleged they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Roundup. The plaintiffs allege that Monsanto knew for years of scientific evidence showing cancer risks associated with its products, but worked to suppress the information to protect its profits.

In his 2019 ruling cutting the award but upholding the jury finding, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria had harsh words for Monsanto, writing: “Despite years of colorable claims in the scientific community that Roundup causes NHL, Monsanto presented minimal evidence suggesting that it was interested in getting to the bottom of those claims… While Monsanto repeatedly intones that it stands by the safety of its product, the evidence at trial painted the picture of a company focused on attacking or undermining the people who raised concerns, to the exclusion of being an objective arbiter of Roundup’s safety.”

Trial lawyers accuse Monsanto, Bayer of “pay-to-appeal scheme,” allege “fraud”

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The lawyers who led the nationwide U.S. Roundup litigation through three trial victories and forced Monsanto owner Bayer AG into an $11 billion settlement have notified a federal court that they have uncovered evidence of fraud in a secret deal between Monsanto and a lone plaintiff’s lawyer who has not been active in the litigation until recently.

In a series of filings made Thursday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, lawyers from three firms involved in the three successful Roundup trials alerted the court to what they said was an effort by Monsanto to “buy” a favorable appellate court ruling.

The agreement between Monsanto and one plaintiff and his attorney is a “pay-to-appeal scheme,” according to plaintiffs’ lawyers Aimee Wagstaff, Brent Wisner and Jennifer Moore.  The legal team asks the court to dismiss the appeal they allege is the focus of the scheme.

The lawyer involved in cutting the deal with Monsanto is Ashleigh Madison of Southeast Law LLC in Savannah, Georgia.  Madison confirmed various terms of the arrangement with Monsanto to Wagstaff’s firm in an email and phone conversations recounted in a declaration, according to the filings made Thursday.

When contacted for comment, Madison denied the allegations and said her client’s best interests are her “top priority.” She said she looks “forward to further addressing the matter before a court of law, as our system of justice intends.”

Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, also said the claims made by Wagstaff, Wisner and Moore are false.  The company issued a statement saying it has been “completely transparent about its desire to appeal Roundup failure-to-warn cases on federal preemption grounds,” and the deal with Madison and her client is “an appropriate path for such an appeal.”

Monsanto has lost all appeals associated with the first case that went to trial, Johnson v. Monsanto, and has appeals pending in the two subsequent trials it lost. Juries in the three trials found the company’s glyphosate-based weed killers such as Roundup caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma suffered by plaintiffs, and that Monsanto failed to warn of the risks.

The company’s primary hope at this point is to get a U.S. Supreme Court finding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of its products, and stance that those products are not likely to cause cancer, essentially bars complaints that Monsanto didn’t warn of any cancer risk with its herbicides. Monsanto is asserting the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) preempts state laws and a duty to warn.

But a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case titled Bates v. Dow Agrosciences established that the EPA’s approval of a product does not rule out claims of a failure to warn brought under state law, and FIFRA expressly states that EPA approval doesn’t constitute an absolute defense. Citing the law and the precedent, more than a dozen federal and state courts have rejected the preemption argument, according to the filing submitted Thursday by the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

If Bayer can force one of the weaker cases to the U.S. Supreme Court and win on preemption, it would thwart the key claims brought by tens of thousands of plaintiffs and likely save Bayer from significant ongoing legal liability costs.

Georgia judge decision

At the heart of the matter is one case, that of Carson v. Monsanto, filed in 2017. The case alleged that plaintiff John Carson developed malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH) from exposure to Roundup. The legal team for the nationwide litigation point out in their filing this week that while there is robust scientific evidence associating Roundup exposure to NHL, there is a lack of scientific evidence associating Roundup to MFH, differentiating the case from the bulk of others filed against the company.

The case languished until Monsanto filed a motion with U.S. District Judge R. Stan Baker in Savannah, Georgia seeking a judgment in its favor on the issue of federal preemption. The district court judge found in favor of Monsanto, agreeing the Carson claim was preempted and the company had no duty to warn of a cancer risk. The judge ruled in favor of Carson, however, on claims that Monsanto was negligent and the design of Roundup products was defective.

Monsanto has since told Carson and his attorney to drop the claims they won on and appeal the preemption ruling they lost, according to the declaration filed by David Wool, a lawyer in the Andrus Wagstaff plaintiffs’ firm.

“Monsanto’s counsel, Martin Calhoun of Hollingsworth LLP, told Madison that Monsanto would never pay her client anything unless he appealed the District Court’s preemption decision – a decision that Monsanto won – and that Monsanto was offering to pay Carson money to appeal the decision,” the declaration states.

Monsanto agreed to pay Carson an undisclosed sum only if he will appeal the decision, according to the new court filing. If he does not drop the claims he won and appeal the preemption matter Monsanto has threatened to make him pay nearly $100,000 in legal fees and costs, according to information turned up by Wagstaff, Wisner and Moore’s law firms.

Carson is required by the deal to appeal only the preemption issue and no other elements of his claims, the legal challenge states:

“While Monsanto’s Civil Appeal Statement suggests it paid Carson to settle his claims not subject to this appeal, in truth, it did no such thing. Payment of the first sum was tied to noticing the appeal, not dismissal of any of Carson’s claims. Carson’s attorney openly admits that Monsanto would never pay Carson unless he appealed the district court’s preemption ruling and corroborated, in writing, that the settlement agreement requires Carson to appeal. If Carson does not appeal, he does not get paid. Indeed, his appeal is so central to getting paid that if he elects to not appeal, he is not only bereft of any settlement, but he is also subject to hefty  liquidated damages. Monsanto is paying Carson to appeal and then threatening him if he does not follow through.

“This appeal should be dismissed—any other result would set a dangerous precedent of appellate review being “for sale” to deep-pocketed litigants. This appeal should be dismissed—any other result would set a dangerous precedent of appellate review being “for sale” to deep-pocketed litigants.”

Allowing the Monsanto-manufactured appeal to go forward “risks turning the justice system on its head by allowing deep-pocketed parties to attempt to broaden the scope of favorable rulings they receive by coercing their adversaries to appeal. This Court’s decisions should not be for sale,” the plaintiffs’ team states in their filing. “This sort of judicial manipulation must be loudly and forcefully rejected.”

Monsanto “ulterior motives”

The declaration filed by Wool recounts conversations with Madison, Carson’s attorney. He states: “On March 15, 2021 I called attorney Ashleigh Madison. During the conversation, Madison confirmed her client’s settlement agreement with Monsanto in the Carson case, and stated that the “first payment” was triggered by filing a notice of appeal.  I expressed my concern that Monsanto had concocted this settlement agreement in an attempt to create favorable appellate law for itself. Madison confirmed that this was her understanding as well, stating that she believed Monsanto had “ulterior motives.”

According to Wool, Madison said her client had only a “very slim chance” of winning the appeal Monsanto was inducing them to file. Still, her client would obtain a “high” value from Monsanto, she told Wool, according to the declaration.

In their letter brief to the court, the trial lawyers said because Carson’s counsel admits that Monsanto is paying Carson to appeal a decision Monsanto won at in order to create appellate precedent, the case “warrants immediate dismissal.”

Litigants “cannot buy appellate review of decisions they won. The Court should reject this attempt to manipulate our judicial system and dismiss the appeal with prejudice because Carson and Monsanto are
deceiving the Court by claiming that an actual case or controversy exists when, in truth, this
appeal was bought and paid for by Monsanto,” they wrote. The Carson agreement “erodes the very foundation of our justice system, which is premised on the principle that opposing parties are actually adversarial—not paying each other to manufacture controversies and seek advisory opinions.”

Bayer said in its statement that the trio of trial lawyers are mischaracterizing the facts.

“Under the settlement, the company agreed to pay Carson $100,000 to drop the surviving design defect claims and to pursue the preemption ruling against him,” Bayer said in the statement. “If he succeeds in the appeal, he gets an additional substantial payment. If Carson drops the appeal, he would simply have to return the $100,000 settlement payment because he would be in breach of its terms. Thus, plaintiffs’ characterization of the $100,000 as a ‘penalty’ in a court filing is completely false, and nothing more than an effort to block this appeal on federal preemption grounds which threatens their interests in this litigation.”

Move to consolidate U.S. paraquat litigation as cases mount against Syngenta

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Lawyers suing Swiss chemical company Syngenta are asking a U.S. judicial panel to consolidate more than a dozen similar lawsuits under the oversight of a federal judge in California. The move is a telling sign of the expansion of litigation that alleges the company’s weed killing products cause Parkinson’s Disease.

According to the motion, filed April 7 by the Texas-based Fears Nachawati law firm with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, there are currently at least 14 lawsuits filed by eight different law firms in six different federal courts across the country. The lawsuits are all filed on behalf of plaintiffs who have been diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disorder, and they allege exposure to Syngenta’s weed killers made with a chemical called paraquat for the disease. Several other cases making the same allegations are pending in state courts.

“The cases are excellent candidates for coordinated pretrial proceedings because they arise from the same poisonous toxin causing the same crippling disease resulting from the wrongful conduct of the same three defendants,” the Fears Nachawati brief in support of its motion states. “Movant expects that the number of similar cases filed in state and federal courts across the country will expand rapidly.”

The motion seeks transfer specifically to Judge Edward Chen in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Majed Nachawati, a partner with the Fears Nachawati firm, said the firm was still investigating the size and scope of the overall litigation but believes the paraquat litigation against Syngenta “will be significant and material in nature…”

“Very soon, there is going to be litigation in dozens of federal courts across the country,” Nachawati said.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers will be seeking internal corporate documents as well as depositions of corporate officials related to the “testing, design, labeling, marketing, and safety of paraquat herbicides,” along with corporate research and evaluations of the toxicity and safety of its paraquat products.

The Miller Firm of Virginia, which helped lead the Roundup cancer litigation against Monsanto that resulted in an $11 billion settlement with Monsanto owner Bayer AG, is among the law firms joining in the paraquat litigation. The Miller firm supports the effort to consolidate the federal actions in California, where thousands of Roundup cases were also consolidated for pretrial proceedings, according to the firm’s lead attorney Mike Miller.

“We are confident that science strongly supports the causal connection between paraquat and the devastation of Parkinson’s disease,” Miller said of the motion. “The Northern District of California is well equipped to handle these cases.”

The cases against Syngenta also name Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. as a defendant. Chevron distributed and sold Gramoxone paraquat products in the United States starting with an agreement with a Syngenta predecessor called Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), which introduced paraquat-based Gramoxone in 1962. Under a license agreement, Chevron had the right to manufacture, use, and sell paraquat formulations in the U.S.

Syngenta and Chevron have denied the allegations.

Syngenta says that its paraquat products have been approved as “safe and effective” for more than 50 years and it will “vigorously” defend the lawsuits. Syngenta is owned by China National Chemical Corporation, known as ChemChina.

Scientific studies

Parkinson’s is an incurable progressive disorder that affects nerve cells in the brain, leading in advanced cases to severe physical debilitation and often dementia. Many Parkinson’s experts say the disease can be caused by a range of factors, including exposure to pesticides such as paraquat, as well as other chemicals.

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. That 2011 research reported that people who used paraquat were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as people who did not use it.

“Numerous epidemiological and animal studies have linked paraquat to Parkinson’s disease,” said Ray Dorsey, a professor of neurology and director of the Center for Human Experimental Therapeutics at University of Rochester in New York. Dorsey is also the author of a book about prevention and treatment of Parkinson’s Disease.

“The evidence linking paraquat to Parkinson’s disease is probably the strongest of any pesticide commonly used,” he said.

Some studies have not found any clear links between paraquat and Parkinson’s and Syngenta asserts that the most recent and authoritative research does not show a connection.

Indeed, a study published in 2020 found connections between some other pesticides and Parkinson’s, but no strong evidence showing paraquat causes the disease.

Upcoming trial

One case filed in a state court is scheduled to go to trial next month. Hoffman V. Syngenta is slated for trial May 10 in St. Clair County Circuit Court in Illinois. A status conference is scheduled for the end of this month.

Missouri lawyer Steve Tillery, who is representing the plaintiffs in the Hoffman case as well as several other plaintiffs in other paraquat lawsuits, said despite Syngenta’s assertions to the contrary, he has accumulated evidence that includes internal company records showing Syngenta has known for decades that its product causes Parkinson’s Disease.

“They shouldn’t be selling this product, said Tillery. “This chemical should be off the market.”

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.

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.”

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.