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Agriculture

Bayer is hit with $2 billion verdict in Roundup case

Case is third so far to find that exposure to the world’s best-selling weedkiller causes cancer

by Marc Reisch
May 15, 2019 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 97, ISSUE 20

 

09720-buscon1-tractor.jpg
Credit: Jack Dykinga\US Department of Agriculture
A crop sprayer applies herbicide between rows of grain.

A California jury has ordered Monsanto owner Bayer to pay an elderly couple more than $2 billion after finding that its Roundup weedkiller caused their cancer. The verdict is the third, since Bayer bought Monsanto last June, to order large payouts to people who claim Roundup made them sick.

The award came in a case, concluded on May 13, in California’s Alameda County Superior Court. Alva Pilliod, 76, and his wife Alberta, 74, attributed their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma to 40 years of using Roundup to maintain their property. Following two days of deliberation, the jury awarded punitive damages of $1 billion each, plus $18 million and $37 million, respectively, for pain and suffering.

Bayer vows to appeal the verdict. “We have great sympathy for Mr. and Mrs. Pilliod,” a statement from the firm says. “But the evidence in this case was clear that both have long histories of illnesses known to be substantial risk factors for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.” The company adds that glyphosate-based Roundup has been used “safely and successfully” for decades and has nearly global regulatory approval.

Bayer is also appealing two other Roundup cases: In March, a state jury in San Francisco awarded Edwin Hardeman, 70, $80 million for his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He had used Roundup to control weeds on his property for 26 years. In August 2018, a San Francisco federal jury awarded $289 million, later reduced to $78 million, to groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson, 47, for his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

According to Bayer, at least four more trials are scheduled in Missouri and Montana this year; overall about 13,400 plaintiffs are awaiting their day in court.

In Bayer’s favor are government rulings that Roundup is not a health risk. But Patrick McGinley, a professor at West Virginia University College of Law who has been following the trials, says plaintiff attorneys used previously undisclosed Monsanto documents to suggest that the firm had manipulated scientific opinion and unduly influenced regulatory decisions. The large verdicts so far could influence Bayer, already bashed by shareholders for Roundup costs, to settle with plaintiffs, he says.

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