Bayer AG could be facing its largest Monsanto Roundup verdict yet, after a plaintiffs’ attorney urged jurors in California to consider $1 billion in damages as punishment for the German company’s purported glyphosate cover-up.
“That is a number that changes things,” the lawyer said during Wednesday’s closing arguments in Alameda County Superior Court.
Alva and Alberta Pilliod regularly used Monsanto Roundup while landscaping their properties for over 30 years. Alva was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2011, while Alberta received the same diagnosis in 2015. According to their lawsuit, the odds that both would develop the same form of cancer is about 1 in 20,000.
Bayer, which acquired Monsanto last year, is defending more than 11,000 similar lawsuits that blame glyphosate for cancer. The company already lost the first two trials, which together resulted in damage awards of $159 million.
Glyphosate is the most popular weed killer in the world. In March 2015, however, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer declared glyphosate a probable human carcinogen based on an independent review that linked occupational exposure to cancer, especially non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and its various subtypes.
Monsanto vehemently disputed the IARC conclusions and waged an aggressive campaign to discredit its review. However, Monsanto Roundup plaintiffs claim that the company manipulated much of the subsequent research and unduly influenced regulatory reviews that contradicted the IARC findings.
Unfortunately for Bayer, those alleged efforts did little to quell the controversy over glyphosate and cancer. In March, for example, findings published in “Mutation Research” suggested that glyphosate exposure increased the risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma by as much as 41%. And while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently reiterated its conclusion that glyphosate isn’t a carcinogen, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry recently said it couldn’t rule out a cancer link and called for more research.
Some analysts have estimated that Bayer’s glyphosate liability could exceed $5 billion. The litigation hasn’t helped the company’s shares, which lost roughly $34 billion in market value in the wake of past Monsanto Roundup verdicts.
That’s made many stockholders nervous, judging by the by an overwhelming vote of “no-confidence” delivered at Bayer’s annual shareholder meeting in Bonn, Germany earlier this month. Though the vote was not legally binding, the company’s supervisory board is reportedly planning an “extraordinary meeting” to address the crisis of confidence.
In April, a judge overseeing hundreds of Monsanto Roundup lawsuits in San Francisco federal court ordered the parties to enter into confidential mediation. Bayer is complying, and some legal experts believe the mediation could ultimately resolve the damaging litigation without generating the negative publicity sparked by Monsanto Roundup verdicts.