The judge overseeing the first federal trial of a Monsanto Roundup lawsuit has agreed to screen jurors with knowledge of a landmark verdict awarded earlier this year in a similar state court case.
According to Law.com, attorneys for Bayer sought to strike such jurors entirely, out of fear that substantial publicity following the $289 million Roundup verdict would taint the jury pool.
During a December 5th hearing, however, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria of the Northern District of California refused to go that far. Instead, jurors with such knowledge will undergo separate questioning to ascertain any possible bias.
“We believe these are positive steps towards preventing the risk of prejudice among jurors in these case,” a Bayer spokesperson said in an email to Law.com.
Bayer, which acquired Monsanto earlier this year, is facing more than 10,000 cancer claims involving Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides. Monsanto Roundup lawsuits began to mount in 2015, shortly after the Word Health Organization declared glyphosate a “probable human carcinogen.”
The nation’s first Roundup cancer trial concluded last August in San Francisco Superior Court. The jury ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million to a former school groundskeeper with terminal non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The trial judge affirmed the jury’s verdict in October. However, she also slashed punitive damages by $210 million to comply with California’s constitutional limits on such awards.
The plaintiff ultimately agreed to accept the reduced judgment of $78 million. Nevertheless, Bayer has decided to appeal the verdict, even though the plaintiff might succumb to cancer long before the issue is resolved.
Judge Chhabria is overseeing more than 620 Roundup lawsuit undergoing centralized pretrial proceedings in the Northern District of California. The litigation’s first bellwether trial begins on February 25th, and could provide insight into jury decisions in similar cases.
The case involves a 70-year-old California man who allegedly used Monsanto Roundup on his property starting in the 1980s. Doctors diagnosed his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015.
Bayer first raised concerns about juror bias in October. Among other things, the company alleged knowledge of the earlier verdict represented “highly prejudicial information for which bias should be presumed.”
Plaintiffs’ attorneys, however, claimed that Monsanto “paid” for news articles critical of the verdict. In addition, they accused a Bayer official of making false statements during media interviews once the case concluded.
Finally, they suggested Monsanto promoted misleading news articles before the earlier trial to influence prospective jurors.
“Depending on what plaintiffs discover, plaintiffs may seek special relief from the court to enjoin any attempt to tamper with the jury in Hardeman,” they wrote.