After a string of defeats in California jury trials, Monsanto faces additional lawsuits related to its Roundup weed killer that will soon be tried in court. For the company, these lawsuits present a significant threat as juries have awarded plaintiffs extremely large verdicts that have included high punitive damages. While the company is appealing the California verdicts, it will simultaneously have to defend trials in other states. Considering that California juries have had a visceral reaction to evidence of the company’s conduct surrounding the possible dangers of the product, these upcoming trials will test how these claims are viewed in other venues.
Roundup Lawsuit Background
The lawsuits at issue allege that the plaintiffs developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a result of their extended usage of the product Roundup. The company has vigorously denied the allegations, although some foreign regulators have concluded that the active ingredient glyphosate is probably a carcinogen. The notable exception is the FDA, which still maintains that Roundup is entirely safe despite mounting evidence to the contrary and resists requests to further regulate the product.
Monsanto lost its first lawsuit last year when a jury in Oakland awarded the plaintiff $289 million in damages after he developed terminal cancer as a result of years of continued use of Roundup. The plaintiff specifically reached out to the company about his safety concerns but continued to use the product when his email was ignored. The reason the verdict was so large was that the jury assessed punitive damages against the company based on an extensive record of corporate malfeasance. Specifically, Monsanto has spent years trying to influence the scientific debate about the safety of Roundup. While the company has had warnings about the potential danger of the product, the company has tried to place a finger on the scale when it comes to a discussion of safety, writing research reports and then hiring experts to sign the report. Monsanto has also resorted to other tactics to overcome and discredit any research that contradicts its opinion.
Recent Jury Verdict & Upcoming Trials
The initial verdict was followed by two other verdicts. In the most recent jury verdict, a married couple who both used Roundup and developed lymphoma received a verdict of $2 billion. Again, the bulk of the verdict consisted of punitive damages. Monsanto is currently appealing all of these verdicts to higher courts in California.
There are also upcoming trials in Missouri. This is significant because this is the state where Monsanto is headquartered. St. Louis County juries have passed some damage awards with high punitives, and this will be one of the first places outside of California where juries will hear the cases. In the Johnson & Johnson talc powder lawsuits, a jury in the same jurisdiction entered a verdict of nearly $5 billion against the defendant spread among 23 plaintiffs. Numerous cases will begin in the fall, including one that has 15 plaintiffs who are scheduled to begin in October. Among the caseloads in this court are two cases set to begin in the winter that have ten and 24 plaintiffs respectively.
Multidistrict Litigation (MDL)
These are not the only legal challenges that Monsanto faces. There is multidistrict litigation in federal court in California that contains a large number of individual lawsuits stemming from cancer-related claims. In addition, lawyers in Missouri have filed a class action lawsuit against Monsanto involving different grounds. Instead of seeking damages for health effects of the product, this lawsuit claims that the company marketed and sold the product under the false assumption that the product was safe. This lawsuit seeks a refund as opposed to compensatory and punitive damages.
All of this adds up to a heavy legal lift for Monsanto. The company is focusing its efforts on appealing the initial adverse verdicts and defending the upcoming trials at the same time. Given the large jury verdicts, the company is at significant legal risk. This has contributed to significant downward pressure on the share price. Monsanto was purchased by German giant Bayer, who inherited the legal problems facing Monsanto. The company’s stock has seen significant selling as investors worry about the company’s long-term future in the face of the Roundup lawsuits. The company’s share price has been cut nearly in half as investors fret over the impact that these verdicts will have on the company’s balance sheet. There are some estimates that the stock is trading for nearly half of what it is worth due to the overhang caused by the litigation.
Currently, there are over 18,000 lawsuits concerning Roundup in the United States. It does not take advanced calculations to figure out that the total liability that Monsanto could face would be significant based on how the first handful of trials have gone. There have been some signs recently that the company may be considering the possibility of a settlement, but that will not erase all of the issues as some plaintiffs may opt-out and continue to pursue their claims given the number of jury verdicts at stake. Juries have shown that they do not have a high opinion of the company’s conduct regarding this product, so the cost of a settlement has likely escalated sharply since the initial verdicts were entered. For Monsanto, there is at least some incentive to settle soon given the number of cases coming to trial in the near future.
Connect with Monsanto Roundup Leads
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- USRTK. “Monsanto Roundup Trial Tracker”, U.S. Right to Know, https://usrtk.org/monsanto-roundup-trial-tracker-index/. Accessed August 5, 2019.
- Bloomberg. “Bayer CEO opens door to settling Roundup cancer qualified cases”, The Los Angeles Times, https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2019-07-30/bayer-settlement-monsanto-roundup-cancer-cases. Accessed August 5, 2019.
- Mike Colombo. “Contact 2: Missouri class-action lawsuit takes aim at Monsanto, Roundup”, Fox 2 News, https://fox2now.com/2019/07/16/contact-2-missouri-class-action-lawsuit-takes-aim-at-monsanto-roundup/. Accessed August 5, 2019.