Landmark Legal Victory: Bayer Monsanto’s $175M Roundup Verdict

Bayer Monsanto’s Landmark Defeat in Roundup Cancer Case

The legal landscape, characterized by a complex web of laws, regulations, and judicial decisions, can often appear daunting to those outside the profession. Within the realm of lawsuits and mass torts, significant verdicts not only set precedents and sway public opinion but also serve as a testament to the pursuit of justice. A prime example is the recent ruling against Bayer’s Monsanto.

Key Points: 

  • A jury recently mandated that Bayer Monsanto pay $175 million to a Pennsylvania man who attributed his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma to prolonged exposure to the company’s Roundup weedkiller. 
  • The plaintiff was awarded $25 million in compensatory damages, coupled with an additional $150 million in punitive damages, asserting that two decades of Roundup application in his garden was a causative factor for his cancer. 
  • Prior to this case, Bayer had celebrated a succession of nine consecutive victories in Roundup-related cases. However, a shift in the tide was observed earlier this month when a St. Louis state court jury awarded $1.25 million in damages to another individual attributing his cancer to the weedkiller. 
  • While compensatory damages are intended to provide restitution to the victim, punitive damages act as a deterrent and serve to reprimand the defendant, in this instance, Bayer’s Monsanto. The substantial punitive damages in this case are indicative of the jury’s stance on the company’s liability. 
  • As the legal battles surrounding Roundup persist, each verdict contributes to a broader narrative that shapes future lawsuits, corporate accountability, and informs potential claimants of their rights. 

The recent courtroom setback faced by Bayer in the Roundup case underscores the intricate relationship that exists between corporations and their products. For claimants, such verdicts symbolize hope and affirm that the legal system is a viable avenue for their grievances to be acknowledged and addressed. Conversely, for corporations, they act as stark reminders of their duties and the potential ramifications of their actions. 

In our capacity as legal professionals, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that claimants – the individuals who are at the forefront of these legal confrontations – are adequately informed, empowered, and supported throughout the judicial process. It is vital to recognize that each case number represents a unique human story, encapsulating elements of suffering, hope, and a quest for justice. 

In a world that can often seem dominated by corporate entities and prevailing power structures, verdicts such as the recent one against Bayer Monsanto highlight the potential power that individuals, when supported by a just legal system, can wield. For every claimant, it is a resounding affirmation that their voices are integral, their pain is recognized, and that justice, albeit sometimes elusive, is within reach. 

Comprehensive Analysis of the Ongoing Roundup Litigation Landscape

Navigating the Complex Terrain of Roundup Litigation

The protracted litigation surrounding Roundup, the widely used herbicide, is entering a pivotal phase as Monsanto/Bayer prepares for a series of jury trials. The imminent trials represent a crucial juncture, embodying both the possibility of significant rewards for plaintiffs and the inherent risks of the litigation process. 

In the forthcoming months, Monsanto is scheduled to confront a sequence of jury trials in the plaintiff-oriented Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia, with the first trial commencing on October 5, 2023. Additional trials will unfold into 2024 in Cobb County, Georgia, where Monsanto is yet to face litigation. Concurrently, a trial is underway in St. Louis County, Missouri, subsequent to a jurisdictional decision by the Missouri Supreme Court transferring certain lawsuits from St. Louis City court to the County. Another trial is also scheduled to take place in San Diego later in September. 

These multiple trials could influence Bayer to consider settling claims on a broader scale, especially if plaintiff verdicts induce market pressures. Contrarily, Monsanto has gained some legal traction from a recent ruling by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which remanded a key preemption question in the Carson v. Monsanto appeal. 

Monsanto’s defense hinges on the claim that federal law, through the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) stance that glyphosate is non-carcinogenic, preempts state law claims of failure to warn about the risks of Roundup. This argument, however, has been consistently rejected by lower and appellate courts, including the Ninth Circuit in the Hardeman case, and the United States Supreme Court has declined to review the appeal. 

The complexity of the legal strategy extends to the Eleventh Circuit, where an en banc panel recently decided not to fully overturn a three-judge panel’s decision but instead remanded the case for further consideration. Monsanto’s legal maneuvers continue as it seeks to argue its position before the Eleventh Circuit, aiming for a favorable decision that might provoke a circuit split, thereby increasing the likelihood of Supreme Court consideration. 

In the interim, Monsanto/Bayer faces the daunting reality of over 45,000 pending claims. Substantial verdicts in the upcoming trials across multiple jurisdictions could further compel the company to settle in order to mitigate litigation risk and alleviate shareholder concerns. 

Despite the potentially heightened risks for Roundup victims presented by the appellate proceedings, the prospects of the forthcoming jury trials in favorable courts seem to offer a counterbalance of potential rewards. 

Legal Updates: 

  1. 10.6.23 Update: The landscape of the Roundup litigation was altered by a recent directed verdict in Monsanto’s favor in a St. Louis County trial. However, the onset of jury selection in several trials, including those in Philadelphia and San Diego, signals a busy period for Monsanto, potentially impacting its approach to settlements.
  2. 10.20.23 Update: A plaintiff victory in St. Louis has disrupted Monsanto’s succession of trial wins. While punitive damages were not awarded, this outcome represents a significant shift, ending Monsanto’s winning streak.
  3. 10.25.23 Update: Further details on the St. Louis victory highlight the implications of the Missouri jury’s decision, including Monsanto’s lack of settlement offers and the effective presentation of new arguments regarding Roundup’s carcinogenic constituents. As the Philadelphia and San Diego trials proceed, additional cases loom on the horizon, setting the stage for further developments.

In conclusion, Monsanto/Bayer remains in a legal quandary as it navigates an array of jury trials and complex appeals. The outcome of these processes will significantly influence the legal landscape concerning Roundup litigation and the broader implications for corporate liability and consumer safety. 

Paraquat: Heading to Daubert Hearing and October Trial

The parties have completed their briefing of two important substantive motions including Daubert and partial summary judgment. They are now poised to begin arguments and obtain  testimony at the Daubert hearing which begins on August 21, 2023. These briefs have been filed under seal except for a single “roadmap brief” filed by defendants on June 9th arguing the science does not support the general causation opinions of Plaintiffs’ experts.

Judge Rosenstengl issued an order on July 28th which, among others, requires Plaintiffs’ expert Dr. Martin Wells to appear and be subject to direct and cross-examination by respective counsel. The Order also allows the parties to submit limited post-hearing closing briefs on or before September 8th.

The outcome of these motions will certainly impact the first bellwether trial of the MDL which is scheduled to begin October 16, 2023.

The first California state court trial, in Contra Costa County, had been scheduled to begin on September 6th but was rescheduled to January 8, 2024. The hearing on Sargon motions (California’s version of a Daubert hearing) and motions for summary judgment is set to begin October 10, 2023. According to Syngenta’s most recently filed Annual Report another case is also set for trial on January 8, 2024 in Florida state court.

One key positive fact that has flown under the radar is that sometime in 2021  Syngenta and Chevron appeared to acknowledge the powerful threat of this litigation by settling an unknown number of Illinois state court cases (in St. Clair County and elsewhere) and 16 California cases pre-trial for $187.5 million. The settlement might have primarily been intended to (1) prevent Stephen Tillery from going forward with high-profile jury trials in St. Clair County and elsewhere in Illinois, and (2) keep the litigation out of the headlines. Assuming the number of settling plaintiffs was relatively small, this Syngenta-disclosed settlement number seems to have provided substantial payouts on a per-plaintiff basis.

This prior settlement should be kept in mind as plaintiffs head towards these important October and January trials.

Quote from Syngenta’s 2021 Annual Report:

“Settlement. On June 1, 2021, Syngenta and a third party co-defendant reached a settlement agreement with paraquat claimants represented by the lead counsel in the Hoffmann cases that were set for trial in St. Clair County, Illinois, and in most of the then-pending California state court cases. In exchange for (and contingent upon) dismissal of all pending cases represented by the lead counsel and a broad release from the covered claimants, Syngenta agreed to pay $187.5 million. Syngenta paid its share into the Qualified Settlement Escrow Fund on July 21, 2021 for purposes of third party verification and allocation among the claimants. The settlement expense is reported within Other general and administrative in the income statement.”

As of July 20, 2023 there were 4,384 active cases pending in the MDL, 298 active cases pending in various California state courts (244 of which are consolidated in a JCCP), and additional cases are proceeding in Pennsylvania (Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas, Complex Litigation Center, has at least 260 cases), Illinois, Florida, Washington, and Delaware.

Tylenol Litigation: Getting Closer to the Daubert Motions

Judge Cote has largely ruled in plaintiffs’ favor to date on most of the defendants’ initial motions — e.g., denying Walmart’s preemption motion twice and J&J’s preemption motion, and various other motions to dismiss claims on other grounds. Most recently she denied J&J’s motion seeking her permission to file an immediate (interlocutory) appeal from her preemption ruling to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.   
Plaintiffs’ leadership have filed amended master complaints against J&J and separately, against the various retail chain defendants who had manufactured and sold their own house brands of acetaminophen (i.e., Walmart, and other major retailers). These master complaints reflect the narrowing of plaintiffs’ causes of action in accordance with Judge Cote’s rulings.  

In further efforts to focus the litigation, parties have agreed to dismiss without prejudice complaints where Texas law clearly governs, since Cote previously dismissed certain claims against retailers under a Texas statutory “safe harbor” preemption clause for retailers. The parties asked Judge Cote to resolve the parties’ dispute over whether certain additional plaintiffs’ complaints are governed by Texas choice of law (and thus dismissible) or a different state’s law (and thus remaining viable).  

As previously written, she has also scheduled a “rocket docket” deadline, with special attention for Daubert motions to be filed on September 19th and a Daubert hearing on the motions during the week of December 4th. The parties will continue the process of exchanging initial and rebuttal expert reports in the weeks leading up to September 19, 2023. 

On July 28, 2023, the Department of Justice asked Judge Cote for a time extension until September 15th to respond to Cote’s unusual invitation to the federal government to weigh in on whether the label for acetaminophen should be changed to provide additional warnings of risk to pregnant women taking the drug. She likely granted the DOJ’s request to obtain a glimpse of how relevant regulatory agencies (especially the FDA) view this dispute in the context of their interpretation of public health and safety requirements.

Watch this space for links to the September 15th and 19th filings — to the extent they are public and not sealed.  

Potential Firefighting Foam Water District Settlement 

On June 2, 2023, Dupont and Chemours announced an AFFF/PFAS proposed class action settlement potentially covering approximately 7,000 public water systems for $1.185 billion, and in July filed a motion seeking MDL Judge Gergel’s preliminary approval for a proposed class action settlement. Three weeks later on June 22nd, 3M announced a similar AFFF/PFAS proposed class action settlement potentially covering a pool of approximately 6,000+ public water systems for a net present value amount of between $10.3 billion and $12.5 billion, to be paid over 13 years. Here too plaintiffs’ counsel and 3M’s counsel filed a motion in July in the MDL seeking Judge Gergel’s preliminary approval of the proposed class action settlement. At an MDL hearing on July 14, 2023, Judge Gergel was told these settlements “are the largest drinking water settlement[s] in history” and that the potential settlement money is on top of “grants” from the federal government available to water entities nearing $10 billion. Gergel emphasized to counsel the potential advantages of the settlement compared with the risks of continuing individual entity litigation and trials in the MDL. The City of Stuart trial has been adjourned and the settlement documents show that the City of Stuart is a specific settling party in the larger settlement document (receiving its own unique but confidential amount).  

The proposed settlements certainly have limitations including the fact that other entity plaintiffs, like State AGs, are not included in the agreement, precise dollar allocations for each water district are not yet known, objectors might seek to derail approval, and if too many water systems opt out the companies could theoretically back out of the agreements; but Judge Gergel said that (1) the standard for preliminary approval of the settlement is “a pretty low threshold”; and (2) such preliminary approval could happen within the next 60 days. A settlement fairness hearing could occur in October or November of 2023. 

These announced settlements are a potential major positive for existing and potential new AFFF and PFAS personal injury claimants, for the following reasons: (1) the settlements potentially move many other “entity” plaintiffs and claimants out of the MDL and into the settlement structure, substantially clearing and opening the way for the personal injury phase of the MDL litigation to move forward more quickly; (2) attorneys for personal injury claimants may move to accelerate timelines after those set forth in Judge Gergel’s May 5, 2023 order, entitled “Second Bellwether Program: Initial Personal Injury Claims,” which provides a general structure and timeframe for selecting bellwether plaintiffs; (3) the settlements give 3M, Dupont and Chemours vital breathing room to get relief from the market pressures they have faced regarding “unquantifiable” PFAS/AFFF liabilities by changing the narrative through the ability to quantify at least some portion of their liabilities.  

Just as important, the companies’ willingness to reach these big dollar settlements right now — not many years down the road after costly multiple “entity” bellwether trials — signals a potential willingness to strike deals at the right price. Accordingly, the door is theoretically open for some type of potential future settlement negotiations regarding certain categories of personal injury claimants — whether primarily victims (firefighters and others) with Leach-study-backed diseases (e.g., kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease) or possibly an even broader group of victims with a wider range of cancers and other injuries.  

As the water systems class action settlement works its way towards potential preliminary approval by Judge Gergel, additional court filings and hearings may reveal further information on the personal injury litigation front.