New Roundup cancer trials loom despite Bayer settlement efforts

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Ken Moll is girding for battle.

Moll, a Chicago-based personal injury attorney, has dozens of lawsuits pending against the former Monsanto Co., all alleging the company’s Roundup weed killers cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and he is now preparing several of those cases for trial.

Moll’s firm is one of a handful that have refused settlement offers made by Monsanto owner Bayer AG, deciding instead to take the fight over the safety of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide products back into courtrooms around the country.

Though Bayer has assured investors it is bringing closure to the costly Roundup litigation through settlement deals totaling more than $11 billion, new Roundup cases are still being filed, and notably several are positioned for trial, with the earliest set to start in July.

“We’re going forward,” Moll said. “We’re doing this.”

Moll has lined up many of the same expert witnesses who helped win the three Roundup trials held to date. And he plans to rely heavily on the same internal Monsanto documents that provided shocking revelations of corporate misconduct that led juries to award hefty punitive damages to the plaintiffs in each of those trials.

Trial set for July 19

One case with a trial date looming involves a 70-year-old woman named Donnetta Stephens from Yucaipa, California who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) in 2017 and has suffered from numerous health complications amid multiple rounds of chemotherapy. Stephens was recently granted a trial “preference,” meaning her case has been expedited, after her lawyers informed the court that Stephens is “in a perpetual state of pain,” and losing cognition and memory. The case is set for trial July 19 in San Bernardino County Superior Court in California.

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

The litigation is not over. It is going to be a continued headache for Bayer and Monsanto,” said Andrew Kirkendall, whose Texas-based firm is helping represent Stephens and other clients seeking speedy trials.

Kirkendall said his firm has lawsuits moving forward to trial in California, Oregon, Missouri, Arkansas and Massachusetts.

This has the potential to be the next asbestos litigation,” he said, referring to decades of lawsuits brought over asbestos-related health problems.

Bayer rejection

Bayer bought Monsanto in June 2018 just as the first Roundup cancer trial was getting underway. Juries in each of the cases that went to trial found that Monsanto’s herbicides do cause cancer and that Monsanto spent decades hiding the risks. Jury awards totaled well over $2 billion, though the judgments have been ordered reduced in the appeals process.

After coming under intense pressure from investors to find a way to cap liability, Bayer announced in June that it had reached a $10 billion settlement to resolve most of more than 100,000 Roundup cancer claims in the United States. Since that time it has been signing deals with law firms around the country, including the firms that have led the litigation since the first suits were filed in 2015. The company is also trying to get court approval for a separate $2 billion plan to try to keep Roundup cancer cases that could be filed in the future from going to trial.

Bayer has been unable to settle with all of the firms with Roundup cancer clients, however. According to multiple plaintiffs’ attorneys, their firms rejected settlement offers because the amounts generally ranged from $10,000 to $50,000 per plaintiff – compensation the attorneys deemed inadequate.

“We said absolutely no,” Moll said.

Another law firm pushing cases forward for trial is the San Diego, California-based Singleton Law Firm, which has roughly 400 Roundup cases pending in Missouri and about 70 in California.

The firm is seeking an expedited trial now for 76-year-old Joseph Mignone, who was diagnosed with NHL in 2019. Mignone completed chemotherapy more than a year ago but also has endured radiation to treat a tumor on his neck, and continues to suffer debilitation, according to the court filing seeking trial preference.

Stories of suffering

There are many stories of suffering within the files of the plaintiffs who are still hoping to get their day in court against Monsanto.

  • Retired FBI agent and college professor John Schafer began using Roundup in 1985 and used the herbicide multiple times during spring, fall and summer months until 2017, according to court records. He did not wear protective clothing until warned by a farmer friend in 2015 to wear gloves. He was diagnosed with NHL in 2018.
  • Sixty-three year-old Randall Seidl applied Roundup over 24 years, including regularly spraying the product around his yard in San Antonio, Texas from approximately 2005 to 2010 and then around property in North Carolina until 2014 when he was diagnosed with NHL, according to court records.
  • Robert Karman applied Roundup products beginning in 1980, generally using a hand-held sprayer to treat weeds on a weekly basis roughly 40 weeks a year, according to court records. Karman was diagnosed with NHL in July 2015 after his primary care doctor discovered a lump in his groin. Karman died in December of that year at the age of 77.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Gerald Singleton said Bayer’s only path to putting the Roundup litigation behind it is to put a clear warning label on its herbicide products, alerting users to the risk of cancer.

“That is the only way this thing is going to be over and done,” he said. Until then, he said, “we’re not going to stop taking cases.”

Bayer’s class action settlement plan draws widespread outrage, opposition

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(Updated March 10 to include judge’s order delaying hearing until May 12)

More than 90 law firms and more than 160 lawyers have notified a federal court judge overseeing U.S. Roundup litigation that they oppose Monsanto owner Bayer AG’s $2 billion plan to settle future claims the company expects to be brought by people diagnosed with cancer they blame on use of Monsanto’s herbicide products.

In recent days, nine separate objections to the plan and four amicus briefs have been filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, letting Judge Vince Chhabria know the extent of opposition to the proposed class settlement. Chhabria has been overseeing thousands of Roundup cancer lawsuits in what is called ‘multidistrict litigation’ (MDL).

On Monday, the National Trial Lawyers (NTL) joined in the opposition on behalf of its 14,000 members. The group said in their filing with the court that they agree with the opposition that “the proposed settlement seriously endangers access to justice for millions of people in the proposed class, would prevent Monsanto’s victims from holding it accountable, and would reward Monsanto in numerous respects.”

The group reiterated in its filing the fear that if Bayer’s proposed settlement is approved, it will set a dangerous precedent for plaintiffs in future, unrelated cases: “It will hurt the proposed class members, not help them. This type of settlement would also provide an untenable template for other corporate tortfeasors to avoid appropriate liability and consequences for their conduct… the proposed class settlement is not how a ‘system of justice’ works and thus such a settlement should never be approved.”

The $2 billion proposed settlement is aimed at future cases and is separate from the $11 billion Bayer has earmarked to settle existing claims brought by people alleging they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) due to exposure to Monsanto’s weed killers. The people impacted by the class settlement proposal are individuals 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.

No punitive damages

One of the key problems with the Bayer plan, according to critics, is that everyone in the United States who meets the criteria as a potential plaintiff will automatically become part of the class and subject to its provisions if they do not actively opt out of the class within 150 days after Bayer issues notifications of the formation of the class. The notification proposed is not sufficient, the critics say. Moreover, the plan then strips those people – who may not even choose to be a part of the class – from the right to seek punitive damages if they do file a lawsuit.

Another provision garnering criticism is a proposed four-year “standstill” period blocking the filing of new lawsuits.

The 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.

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.

Struggling for a solution

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 three trials found not only that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup cause cancer, but also that Monsanto spent decades hiding the risks.

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

But that group of lawyers stands to receive $170 million for their work with Bayer to implement the proposed plan, a fact critics say taints their involvement and objectivity. None of the lawyers involved in putting the class action plan together with Bayer actively represented any plaintiffs in the broad Roundup litigation before this point, the critics point out.

In one of the opposition filings, lawyers seeking a rejection of the proposed settlement wrote this:

“This proposed settlement is opposed by those most familiar with the litigation of cases involving dangerous products like Roundup because they recognize that this proposal would benefit Monsanto and class counsel at the expense of the millions of people exposed to Roundup.

“Although this Roundup MDL has been underway for over four years, and other Roundup cases have been litigated in state courts, the impetus for this engineered class action settlement does not come from lawyers who have been handling Roundup cases and believe that an alternative method for resolving them is essential. Instead, the lawyers who are behind this settlement – and it is surely the lawyers and not Roundup victims – are class-action lawyers who seek to impose their views on all those who have been exposed to Roundup, in exchange for a very large fee.

“But an even bigger winner here will be Monsanto, which will get a four-year stay of litigation by class members, who will also lose their right to seek punitive damages and be saddled with the results of an ill-conceived science panel. In exchange, class members will be shunted into an alternate compensation system that features modest payments, increased complexity, and high hurdles to qualify.”

Delay sought

Bayer’s settlement plan was filed with the court on Feb. 3, and must be approved by Judge Chhabria in order to become effective. A prior settlement plan submitted last year was scorned by Chhabria and then withdrawn.

A hearing on the matter was set for March 31 but the attorneys who put the plan together with Bayer have asked Judge Chhabria to delay the hearing until May 13, citing the breadth of the opposition they must address. The judge responded with an order resetting the hearing for May 12.

“These filings totaled more than 300 pages, in addition to more than 400 pages of attached declarations and exhibits,” the lawyers said their request for more time. “The objections and amicus briefs raise a host of issues, including, among other things, the overall fairness of the settlement, multiple constitutional attacks on the settlement and proposed advisory science panel, technical challenges to the notice program, attacks on the fairness of the compensation fund, and challenges to predominance, superiority, and the adequacy of class (and subclass) counsel.”

The lawyers who filed the proposed plan said they could use the additional time before the hearing “to engage with objectors” to “streamline or narrow the issues that need to be contested at the hearing.”

Deaths continue

Amid the arguments over Bayer’s proposed settlement, plaintiffs continue to die. In what is referred to as a “Suggestion of Death,” lawyers for plaintiff Carolina Garces filed a notification with the federal court on March 8 that their client had died.

Several plaintiffs suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma have died since the start of the litigation in 2015.

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.