In a landmark decision, a Missouri jury has ordered Bayer AG’s Monsanto unit to pay more than $1.5 billion in damages to three former users of its Roundup weedkiller. This ruling, one of Monsanto’s largest trial losses in the five-year litigation over the herbicide, raises new questions about the safety of the controversial product and the company’s future legal challenges.
In a late Friday decision, jurors awarded James Draeger, Valorie Gunther, and Dan Anderson $61.1 million in actual damages and a staggering $500 million each in punitive damages. They claimed that years of using Roundup on their properties led to their non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas. This verdict is one of the largest against a US corporate defendant this year, eclipsing even a significant $1.78 billion verdict in a federal real estate case (which could balloon to more than $5 billion), Bloomberg reports.
Bayer officials said on Saturday that US judges have allowed what they see as mischaracterization of regulatory decisions on Roundup’s safety. Despite recent plaintiff victories, the company says it remains confident in overturning these verdicts, citing ongoing regulatory support for glyphosate, Roundup’s main ingredient. Bayer plans to phase out glyphosate in the US consumer market by year’s end.
Bayer also noted in the statement the US Environmental Protection Agency continues to find Roundup and its main ingredient, glyphosate, as safe and a federal appeals court recently backed a rejection of calls for Bayer to include safety warnings on the product’s distinctive white bottles. The company agreed to transition from the version of Roundup containing glyphosate to new active weed-killing ingredients in the US consumer market by the end of the year. -Bloomberg
The punitive award in the Missouri case may be subject to reduction, as US Supreme Court rulings generally limit such awards to ten times the actual damages. However, Monsanto has previously seen substantial damage awards in similar cases, including a $2 billion verdict in California, later reduced to $87 million.
The Burden of Legacy Litigations
Bayer, which acquired Monsanto in 2018, has allocated up to $16 billion for over 100,000 Roundup cases. The company’s legal challenges extend beyond Roundup, encompassing other Monsanto products like toxic PCBs. With more trials on the horizon in Arkansas and Delaware, Bayer’s legal landscape appears increasingly precarious.
Plaintiffs in most of the Roundup casess argue that Monsanto was aware of glyphosate’s potential carcinogenic properties and attempted to suppress this information. Internal documents have revealed efforts by Monsanto officials to influence scientific studies supporting glyphosate’s safety.
“These are the kinds of verdicts Bayer can look forward to in future trials,” said Dallas-based attorney Jay Utley. “Monsanto has done wrong for so many years in selling Roundup that it’s a beautiful thing to have a jury recognize that wrongdoing and punish them for it.”
The Missouri case, which brought together plaintiffs from across the US, illustrates the widespread usage and impact of Roundup. The varied backgrounds of the plaintiffs, from landscapers to homeowners, underscore the herbicide’s broad reach and the potential scale of its health effects.
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