Federal Monsanto Roundup Litigation to Convene Two-Phase Bellwether Trials

Published on January 7, 2019 by Sandy Liebhard

The federal court overseeing hundreds of cancer lawsuits involving Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer has agreed to conduct bifurcated bellwether trials.

1st Monsanto Roundup Bellwether Trial Begins in February

More than 650 Roundup lawsuits are pending in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, all of which were filed on behalf of individuals who allege exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers.

The litigation is scheduled to convene three bellwether trials this year, with the first starting on February 25th. Verdicts in these trials are intended provide insight into how other juries might rule in similar Roundup cancer lawsuits.

In some multidistrict litigations, bellwether trial verdicts have also led to global settlements that ultimately resolved most, if not all, of the pending lawsuits.

Phase One Will Focus on General Causation

In a January 4th Order, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, granted a defense request that federal bellwether trials involving Monsanto Roundup and cancer proceed in two phases. The first will focus on general causation, or whether glyphosate actually causes cancer.

The trials will move to the second phase if juries find in the affirmative. Only then will plaintiffs be permitted to present evidence of Monsanto’s alleged attempts to manipulate regulators and influence public opinion in regards to the safety of glyphosate.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys had opposed this plan from the start, arguing that the scientific evidence backing their claims was inextricably linked to Monsanto’s alleged bad behavior. On Friday, they urged Judge Chhabria to reconsoder. But he refused, stating that plaintiffs should not “focus on misrepresenting statements” by Monsanto employees.

“My point is you’re mischaracterizing what Monsanto people have said, you’re putting your own spin on (it),” he said, according to Reuters.

Glyphosate Exposure and Cancer

Monsanto Roundup is the most popular weed killer in the world.  But in March 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared its active ingredient, glyphosate, a probable human carcinogen.

The designation came after an independent review linked glyphosate exposure to an increased risk of cancer, especially non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and its various subtypes.

$289 Million Verdict in First Roundup Lawsuit Trial

Since March 2015, plaintiffs throughout the United States have filed more than 9,300 Roundup cancer lawsuits.

The nation’s first such trial concluded last August, when a San Francisco jury awarded $289 million in compensatory and punitive damages to a former California groundskeeper with terminal non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. However, the total award was later reduced to $78 million to comply with the state’s constitutional limits on punitive damages.

During the trial, the plaintiff’s attorneys presented internal company documents which they said showed Monsanto was aware of glyphosate’s alleged risks as early as 1983. Company emails also suggested that Monsanto had manipulated the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which declared glyphosate safe in 2017.

The San Francisco verdict was unanimous. What’s more, the initial punitive damage award of $250 million reflected the jury’s finding that Monsanto’s handling of glyphosate constituted malicious and oppressive conduct.

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