A federal judge overseeing hundreds of Monsanto Roundup lawsuits has canceled an upcoming bellwether trial and ordered the parties to confidential mediation.
U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria of the Northern District of California is presiding over nearly 800 lawsuits that allege Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers. The proceeding’s second bellwether trial would have begun on May 22nd.
On Thursday, however, Judge Chhabria indicated he would rather expend resources on organizing the litigation to determine which Monsanto Roundup lawsuits he should dismiss, which he should send to state courts, and which he should remand to the original federal court of filing for trial.
“The parties should propose a mediator,” he wrote in his April 11th Order. “If they cannot agree, the court will appoint someone.”
The Court will convene a hearing on May 22nd to address the mediation efforts and possibly set a new trial date for the cancelled case.
Bayer AG, which recently acquired Monsanto for $63 billion, indicated earlier today that it would comply with the mediation order in good faith, but continues to maintain that glyphosate is safe.
“As this litigation is still in the early stages — with only two verdicts and no cases that have run their course through appeal — we will also remain focused on defending the safety of glyphosate-based herbicides in court,” the company said.
One legal expert told Bloomberg News that mediation orders aren’t unusual in large, complex litigations and cautioned against reading too much into Judge Chhabria’ directive. However, he also noted that confidential mediation could allow Bayer to resolve Monsanto Roundup lawsuits without generating the negative publicity that has accompanied two previous verdicts.
Analysts have predicted that a Monsanto Roundup settlement could cost Bayer $5 billion.
Monsanto developed glyphosate in the 1970s. The company’s Roundup products and other glyphosate-based weed killers have since become the most popular herbicides in the world.
In March 2015, however, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared glyphosate a probable human carcinogen. The designation came after an independent review suggested occupational exposure increased the risk of cancer, especially non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and its various subtypes.
Monsanto vehemently denied the IARC findings and launched an aggressive campaign to defend glyphosate. Plaintiffs pursuing Monsanto Roundup lawsuits allege the campaign included funding, influencing, and even ghostwriting many of the studies that contradicted the IARC review, as well as leveraging a close relationship with regulators to manipulate their glyphosate investigations.
When it acquired Monsanto, Bayer inherited a massive litigation that currently includes over 13,000 Roundup cancer lawsuits pending in courts throughout the United States.
The first Monsanto Roundup trial concluded last August, when a jury in San Francisco Superior Court ordered Bayer to pay $289 million to another plaintiff with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. However, the judge overseeing that case ultimately reduced the verdict to $78 million, after finding that punitive damages were excessive.
Last month, a second plaintiff was awarded $80 million in compensatory and punitive damages, after a jury in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, found that Roundup was a “substantial factor” in his Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
A third Monsanto Roundup lawsuit is currently at trial in California’s Alameda Superior Court.