Nov. 6, 2018 – St. Louis, Missouri – – Bayer AG’s chief executive officer Werner Baumann said the company could consider Monsanto settlements to resolve Roundup cancer lawsuits filed in courts throughout the United States, depending on court costs.
Baumann made the comments last week to German media invited to tour Bayer’s new operations in St. Louis, formerly the headquarters for Monsanto Company. The German multinational pharmaceutical and life sciences company acquired Monsanto earlier this year for $63 billion. The combined company is defending itself against more than 8,000 lawsuits throughout the U.S. alleging exposure to Roundup, Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weed killer, causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
Reporters asked Mr. Baumann whether there was any scenario in which his company would consider a Roundup lawsuit settlement. “If we can settle nuisances at some point where the defense costs in preparing cases are higher than potential settlement amounts, we will of course consider it from an economic standpoint,” Baumann responded.
Huge Loss in Roundup Cancer Lawsuit Caused Bayer’s Stock to Freefall
In August, a San Francisco jury awarded Dewayne “Lee” Johnson $289.2 million in the first Monsanto cancer lawsuit to proceed to trial. Johnson, a former groundskeeper for a school district in the Bay Area, filed suit against Monsanto in 2016 alleging exposure to Ranger Pro, another Monsanto glyphosate-based herbicide, caused him to develop terminal NHL.
After five weeks of trial proceedings, the jury unanimously found that Monsanto’s herbicide caused Mr. Johnson to develop NHL and that the company failed to warn of this severe health hazard. The jury also found that Monsanto acted with malice, oppression or fraud and should be punished for its conduct.
As news of the Monsanto verdict spread, Bayer AG stock fell by more than 25%, leading analysts to wonder whether the possibility for a Bayer-backed Roundup settlement existed. One analyst from Jefferies LLC, a financial services group in London, noted that Bayer’s liability from the Monsanto litigation could reach $800 billion, significantly more than the buyout Bayer offered Monsanto.
Judge Upholds Jury Verdict against Monsanto, Reduces Punitive Damages in Johnson Case
In the weeks following the verdict, attorneys for Monsanto filed two motions; one for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and the other for a new trial. Last month, Judge Suzanne Bolanos, who oversaw the Johnson trial, ruled to uphold the jury verdict but reduced the punitive damages, bringing the total awarded to Mr. Johnson $78.5 million ($39.25 million in compensatory damages and $39.25 million in punitive damages).
“While we think the punitive damages reduction was not appropriate, Judge Bolanos’ final ruling did weigh the liability and punitive conduct evidence according to the required standard: in a light most favorable to the prevailing party, thus preserving the jury’s basic findings,” said the law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman in a statement following the judge’s ruling. Baum Hedlund attorney R. Brent Wisner served as co-lead trial counsel for Mr. Johnson.
“We appreciate and acknowledge this jury’s verdict sending a strong message to deter Monsanto’s conduct that caused Lee Johnson’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma… We expect Monsanto to appeal, notwithstanding, so we will address all issues regarding the verdict and the amount of damages at the Court of Appeals.”
In her ruling, Judge Bolanos stipulated that if Mr. Johnson refused the reduced punitive damages, she would grant Monsanto a new trial. After careful consideration, Mr. Johnson decided to accept the remittitur with the hope that his case would reach a final resolution during his lifetime.
What’s Next in the Roundup Litigation?
In his comments to the German media, Baumann indicated that Bayer/Monsanto will change its legal strategy in defending glyphosate. According to legal filings, the combined company added new counsel to the Roundup litigation and asked the judge overseeing the federal Roundup multidistrict litigation (MDL) to alter the jury selection process for upcoming trials.
According to Bayer, the potential “jury pool likely has grown more hostile” following negative media coverage of the Johnson verdict. Attorneys for Mr. Johnson called the claims “hypocritical beyond belief,” citing the company’s most recent efforts to control the message on glyphosate using a full-page ad in the Washington Post.
U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, who oversees the federal Roundup MDL, will rule on the jury request sometime in December. The first trial in the federal litigation begins on Feb. 25, 2019.