Monsanto Roundup settlement talks appear to be moving forward, with sources telling Bloomberg News that Bayer AG is willing to pay as much as $8 billion to resolve thousands of cancer lawsuits involving the glyphosate-based herbicide.
While the offer is encouraging, experts cautioned that any agreement could take months to finalize, especially since plaintiffs’ attorneys are reportedly seeking more than $10 billion to settle the massive litigation. The parties are also at odds over how to compensate Roundup users who might be diagnosed with cancer in the future.
Bayer, which acquired Monsanto last year, is defending around 18,400 Roundup cancer lawsuits in courts throughout the United States. The cases started to mount shortly after the World Health Organization declared glyphosate a probable human carcinogen in March 2015.
Monsanto Roundup trials began last August, and Bayer has yet to win a single verdict. Even after all three trial judges decided to reduce punitive damages, payouts still averaged $50 million per plaintiff. The litigation also grew by thousands of cases in the wake of each verdict.
Earlier this year, a federal judge in San Francisco tapped Ken Feinberg, the prominent attorney behind the 9/11 Victims Compensation and other high-profile settlements, to lead the Roundup settlement discussions. In July, Bayer’s CEO suggested the company would be open to a “financially reasonable” agreement.
Speculation for a settlement grew this week, after Bayer asked two judges in Missouri to delay upcoming Monsanto Roundup trials, including one set to begin on August 19th. A case scheduled for trial in San Francisco federal court was also postponed until February.
Bayer’s share price has been on a mostly downward trajectory since the Monsanto acquisition, mainly due to the Roundup litigation. The resulting $30 billion loss in market valuation inspired a rare shareholder revolt earlier this year, and major investors have been pushing Bayer to resolve the lawsuits for months.
According to Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who teaches about mass personal injury litigation, the cancellation of the Missouri trials is a clear signal Bayer is serious about a Monsanto Roundup settlement. It’s in the company’s best interest to avoid another big verdict, especially one like the $2 billion judgment awarded by Alameda Superior Court jury in May.
“They don’t want to try these cases in St. Louis,” he told Bloomberg. “It could be worse than California.”