After a week of behind-the-scenes discussions, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria has issued a formal order of mediation to seek a settlement between Bayer AG and lawyers representing thousands of cancer victims who are suing Monsanto alleging their exposure to the company’s Roundup herbicide caused their illnesses.
Bayer, which bought Monsanto in June of last year, has vowed to vigorously fight the litigation, despite losing the first two trials in unanimous jury verdicts and large damage awards against Monsanto. A third trial is underway now in Oakland, California.
But Chhabria has seen enough and wants to move the parties closer to a settlement, if possible. Chhabria’s order for “confidential mediation” comes after jurors awarded the plaintiff in the second trial, Edwin Hardeman, $80.2 million in damages. A separate jury in a separate court under a different judge last summer awarded a California groundskeeper $289 million in damages, an amount later reduced to $78 million.
“The parties should propose a mediator in their case management statement; if they cannot agree, the Court will appoint someone,” the judge wrote in his order.
Bayer said it would comply with mediation talks but still is focused on defending the safety of glyphosate-based herbicides in court.
Chabbria’s move for mediation comes after he provided Monsanto with a bifurcated trial that sharply limited the evidence the plaintiff’s attorneys were able to present to jurors. Observers saw the Hardeman trial as very advantageous for Monsanto’s defense, and yet still the company could not overcome scientific evidence tying its products to cancer and internal documents plaintiffs’ attorneys say shows the company knowingly hid the risks of its herbicides from consumers and regulators.
Judge Chhabria, who is overseeing multidistrict litigation (MDL) that encompasses more than 800 lawsuits out of the thousands filed, said he was vacating a May 20 trial date for what would have been the fourth Roundup cancer trial. Many lawsuits filed around the United States have been transferred into the federal court MDL system, used to streamline and consolidate pretrial proceedings and discovery, but now will be sent back to their home districts for handling.
“The Court has determined that, at this stage in the proceedings, the resources of the parties and the Court are better spent on organizing the remaining cases in the MDL. This includes determining which cases must be dismissed, determining which cases must be remanded to state court, and preparing the
remaining cases for transfer back to their home districts for federal court trials,” Chhabria wrote.
Chhabria set a May 22 hearing to discuss the next steps for the MDL cases.
Meanwhile, jurors in the Pilliod v. Monsanto case being tried in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland had the day off Friday with no trial proceedings scheduled. The jury spent this week hearing from scientists/expert witnesses explaining research they say shows that glyphosate-based herbicides cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the type of cancer suffered by the plaintiffs, the married couple Alva and Alberta Pilliod.
Testimony this week also included video examinations of former Monsanto toxicologist Mark Martens and William Reeves, whose title is “Global Health and Safety Issues Management Lead”at Bayer Crop Science.