Bayer AG is now saddled with more than 8,000 Monsanto Roundup lawsuits, as filings surged in the wake of a $289 million cancer verdict awarded to a former California landscaper earlier this month.
When Bayer completed its acquisition of Monsanto last June, it was facing roughly 5,200 U.S. product liability claims involving Roundup.
“In the course of the acquisition, we carried out due diligence as is standard practice when taking over a listed company. In doing so, we of course also considered the legal risks,” Bayer CEO Werner Bauman said in a recent interview with a German newspaper.
Bayer continues to deny that the Roundup lawsuits have merit and has promised to appeal the California verdict.
Since its launch in 1974, Monsanto’s Roundup has become the most popular weed killer in the world.
Sales of the herbicide surged even more after Monsanto introduced Roundup Ready crops in 1996. Roundup Ready versions of corn, soybeans, and other crops are genetically modified to be resistant to the effects of glyphosate, the herbicide’s active ingredient.
However, scientific opinion regarding glyphosate’s link to cancer is mixed.
In 2015, the World Health Organization found that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans,” specifically linking exposure to an increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and its various subtypes.
But just last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared the weed killer safe.
The first trial of a Roundup lawsuit concluded on August 10th, when a jury in California’s San Francisco Superior Court awarded $289 million to Dwayne Johnson, a former school district groundskeeper suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Johnson’s disease is considered terminal, and his doctors have given the 46-year-old father of two young boys roughly six months to live.
During the course of the trial, Johnson’s lawyers presented internal company documents as proof that Monsanto was aware of glyphosate’s purported dangers as early as 1983. Company emails entered into evidence also suggested that Monsanto had insinuated itself into the decision-making process at the EPA while the weed killer was under review.
The verdict in favor of Johnson was unanimous, with the jury finding that Monsanto had acted “with malice or oppression” when it sold Roundup to his former employer, the Benicia Unified School District, without disclosing the product’s potentially life-threatening side effects.
He and his family were awarded $2.3 million in damages for his past and future economic losses and $37 million for pain and emotional distress. Johnson was also awarded $250 million in punitive damages for what the jury considered oppressive and malicious conduct on the part of Monsanto.
Since the verdict’s announcement, Bayer shares have reportedly fallen more than 10%.
“The odds are that Bayer will suffer more losses” Elizabeth Burch, a University of Georgia liability law professor, told Bloomberg News. “Investors better get prepared.”