Closing Arguments Today, Jurors To Deliberate Damages for Cancer Caused by Roundup

Print Email Share Tweet

(Transcript of today’s proceedings) 

Lawyers for Edwin Hardeman presented their closing argument today in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, asking jurors to punish Monsanto for failing to warn about the cancer risks of its Roundup herbicide.

Attorney Jennifer Moore presented the close for the plaintiff’s legal team, and Monsanto attorney Brian Stekloff made his closing argument, winding down a month-long trial that already recorded a first phase jury verdict finding Roundup was a “substantial factor” in causing Hardeman’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The jury’s decision now is simply a matter of money – whether or not Monsanto should pay damages, including punitive damages, to Hardeman. Though jurors already decided Roundup caused the harm to Hardeman, they have yet to determine if Monsanto should be held responsible for that harm.  The jury instructions call for jurors to answer three questions in order to be able to determine damages: Was Roundup’s design defective? Did Roundup lacked sufficient warning of potential risks? And was Monsanto negligent by not using reasonable care to warn about the risks posed by Roundup?

Monsanto’s attorneys have not changed their position that Roundup does not cause cancer. But for the issue of liability they have argued that during the period Hardeman used Roundup – from 1986 to 2012 – no regulatory or health organization required a warning on Roundup labels regarding cancer, and Monsanto had no evidence leading it to believe a warning was necessary.

In testimony Monday, former Monsanto Chairman Hugh Grant defended the company’s conduct surrounding Roundup though he acknowledged the company never did any epidemiology study of Roundup even though the company spent more than $1 billion annually researching new products.

“Monsanto acted responsibly,” company attorney Brian Stekloff told the jury last week.  Telling jurors “this is not a popularity contest,” he said there was no evidence Monsanto acted negligently. “Monsanto, consistent with the science, consistent with how the science was being viewed around the rest of the world, did act responsibly and should not be found liable,” he said.

Hardeman’s attorneys have told jurors that there was a wealth of scientific evidence showing cancer risks associated with Roundup but Monsanto chose to try to suppress and/or discredit the information rather than warn customers like Hardeman.

If the jurors find that Monsanto is liable, the parties have already agreed to a figure of $200,967.10 for economic losses. But jurors could elect to add ‘noneconomic damages” to the tally, and they could add punitive damages.

Judge Vince Chhabria said in an earlier ruling that there was “a great deal of evidence” to support a punitive damages award against Monsanto and to show that the company “has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of its product.”

The judge said there is “strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue.”

In the first Roundup cancer trial, a jury last August awarded $289 million to plaintiff Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, though the judge reduced the verdict to $78  million.

In Blow to Bayer, Jury Finds Roundup Caused Plaintiff’s Cancer

Print Email Share Tweet

(Video update)

(Transcript of today’s proceedings)

A unanimous jury decision on Tuesday handed a first-round victory to plaintiff Edwin Hardeman, as the six jury members found that Hardeman’s exposure to Roundup was a “substantial factor” in causing his non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The jury decision means the trial now moves into a second phase in which jurors will take up the issue of liability and damages.

Jurors deliberated for nearly a week before weighing in on the one question they had to answer in the first phase of the bifurcated trial.  U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria sharply limited the evidence jurors could hear in the first phase to evidence dealing solely with general and specific causation. That meant the first phase was filled with discussions and debates over various scientific studies. The first phase mostly excluded evidence about Monsanto’s alleged actions to control or manipulate the scientific record and claims that Monsanto has worked to suppress evidence of harm with its herbicides. But such evidence will be allowed in the second phase as the jury considers the company’s conduct.

Following the verdict, Judge Chhabria told the jurors about the second phase: “The issues that you will be considering are whether Monsanto is legally liable for the harm caused to Mr. Hardeman and, if so, what the damages should be. So those are the issues that you will begin considering tomorrow.”

The verdict was a significant victory not just for Hardeman, but for the other thousands of plaintiffs around the United States who have sued Monsanto and also allege exposure to the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The company already has one loss from last summer’s jury verdict in favor of a dying California groundskeeper. Another case begins next week in nearby Oakland, California.

In response to today’s verdict, Aimee Wagstaff of Andrus Wagstaff, PC and Jennifer Moore of Moore Law Group, PLLC, co-trial counsel for the Plaintiff, issued the following statement:

 “Mr. Hardeman is pleased that the jury unanimously held that Roundup caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup. Instead, it is clear from Monsanto’s actions that it does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue. We look forward to presenting this evidence to the jury and holding Monsanto accountable for its bad conduct.”

Bayer issued a statement as well: “We are disappointed with the jury’s initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms that glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer. We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto’s conduct has been appropriate and that the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman’s cancer. Regardless of the outcome, however, the decision in phase one of this trial has no impact on future cases and trials because each one has its own factual and legal circumstances. We have great sympathy for Mr. Hardeman and his family, but an extensive body of science supports the conclusion that Roundup™ was not the cause of his cancer. Bayer stands behind these products and will vigorously defend them.”

Concerns over Judge’s Jury Instructions

Print Email Share Tweet

(Transcript from today’s proceedings)

(UPDATE, 3 p.m. Pacific Time – Closing arguments are completed. The jury has received instructions for deliberations.)

Closing arguments got underway Tuesday. With the first phase of Hardeman V. Monsanto winding down plaintiff Edwin Hardeman’s attorneys issued a strong objection to Judge Vince Chhabria’s plans for instructing the jury about how to consider the issue of causation.

The way Chhabria worded his instructions makes it “impossible” for Hardeman to prevail, attorney Jennifer Moore wrote in a letter to the judge. California law sets for instructions that causation is determined when a substance or action is a “substantial factor” in causing an outcome. But the judge’s instructions would require jurors to find that Roundup was the sole factor that caused Hardeman’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Moore argued.

Judge Chhabria replied by saying he could not give “the standard California multiple causation instruction” because plaintiff’s attorneys failed to present evidence that Hardeman’s cancer was due to multiple factors. He did say, however, that he could modify the instructions slightly to try to address the concerns. In the final instruction Chhabria added wording that said a substantial factor “does not have to be the only cause of the harm.”

Monsanto has argued that Hardeman’s cancer is not due to exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides but more likely due to the hepatitis C Hardeman had for many years.

This is also an interesting little nugget in the jury instructions:

Meanwhile, in the upcoming Pilliod V. Monsanto case, motion hearings and discussion of hardship claims for prospective jurors begins next week in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, not far from downtown San Francisco where the Hardeman case may still be underway if it goes to the second phase.

Opening statements in the Pilliod trial could begin March 21 but more likely will take place March 25 or later depending on how long the jury selection process takes.

Judicial Threats and Judge Jokes

Print Email Share Tweet

(UPDATE – Another juror has just been dismissed. One of the seven women jurors has been dismissed in morning proceedings. That leaves one man and six women. A total of six jurors are required and all must be unanimous in their verdict.)

As day three opens in the first federal trial over claims that Monsanto’s Roundup products can cause cancer, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria has made it clear that he has no fondness for plaintiff Edwin Hardeman’s legal team.

Chhabria on Tuesday issued a ruling sanctioning Hardeman’s lead counsel Aimee Wagstaff for what the judge deemed as “several acts of misconduct,” fining her $500 and ordering her to provide a list of all others on her team who participated in drafting her opening statement so that those lawyers may also be sanctioned.

At issue – various remarks made by Wagstaff that Judge Chhabria thought exceeded the tight restrictions he has placed on what evidence the jury can hear. Chhabria wants jurors to hear only about scientific evidence without context about Monsanto’s conduct seeking to influence the scientific record and knowledge of certain scientific findings. Additionally, even though there were no restrictions in place pertaining to the introduction of plaintiff Hardeman to the jury, the judge took issue with Wagstaff’s manner of introduction and description of how he came to learn he had non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

In Monday’s proceedings the judge made his anger at Wagstaff clear, interrupting her multiple times as she addressed the jury and ordering her to alter her presentation. He also instructed the jury more than once not to consider what Wagstaff said as evidence.

In court on Tuesday he chastised Wagstaff and said that he knew her actions were intentionally aimed at flouting his directives because she did not wither under his “coming down hard on her” in court Monday during her opening statement.

Below is a portion of those proceedings from Tuesday. (References to Moore mean Jennifer Moore, who is co-counsel on the Hardeman case.)

THE COURT: All arrows point to this being bad faith, including, by the way, Ms. Wagstaff’s reactions to the objections. She was clearly ready for it. She clearly braced herself for the fact that I was going to come down hard on her. And she was — to her credit perhaps, she was very steely in her response to my coming down hard on her because she knew it was coming and she braced herself for that.

MS. MOORE: Well, I — Your Honor, I don’t think that is not fair; and that is based on assumptions on the Court’s part.

THE COURT: That is based on my observations of body language and facial expressions.

MS. WAGSTAFF: Well, actually, Your Honor, I would just like to talk about that for just one moment. The fact that I can handle you coming down in front of a jury should not be used against me. I have been coming in front of you now for, what, three years. So I’m used to this communication back and forth. And the fact that I was prepared for anything that you had to say to me — and that you interrupted my opening statement a few times in a row — should not be used against me. The fact that I have composure when you are attacking me, it should not be used against me.

THE COURT: I was not attacking you. I was enforcing the rules, the pretrial rules.

MS. WAGSTAFF: You just said the fact that I was able to compose myself is evidence of intent, and that is just not fair.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys in the case believe that the judge’s directive to separate the trial into two phases and sharply limit the evidence they can present to the jury is extremely favorable to Monsanto and prejudicial to their ability to meet the burden of proof in the case. They also say that the judge’s guidance on what evidence can come in and what cannot is confusing. And they point out that Monsanto’s attorney also in opening statements introduced evidence that was banned by the judge, though he was not sanctioned.

Below is a bit more from Tuesday’s proceedings:

THE COURT: And that is — that is relevant to intent. That is relevant to bad faith. The fact that the Plaintiffs have made so clear that they are so desperate to get this information into Phase One is evidence that it was not just a mistake that they happen to put this information in their opening statements.

MS. MOORE: Your Honor, I did not say we were desperate. What I was trying to explain is that the way the trial is set up is unusual. And I think, Your Honor, that you recognize that after the bifurcation order came out; that this is a unique situation where you limit a trial when we are talking about product case like this to only science in the first phase, and it has created confusion on both sides of the aisle.

That’s for sure.

Joke of the day – told to me by a lawyer who wishes to remain unnamed:

Q: “Who is Monsanto’s best lawyer?”

A: “Judge Chhabria.”