June 1, 2021, Los Angeles, California - - Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman attorney and vice president R. Brent Wisner was selected as a winner of Law360’s Rising Stars award for product liability. Law360 chose Attorney Wisner from a pool of more than 1,400 applicants based on several high-profile case results over the last few years.
Law360 gives its Rising Stars awards to the top legal talent under 40. The winners are top litigators and dealmakers practicing at a level usually seen from veteran attorneys. R. Brent Wisner has undoubtedly caught the attention of his peers after helping negotiate one of the largest mass tort settlements of the last decade and earning one of the largest personal injury verdicts in United States history…all before he turned 38.
$10 Billion Roundup Settlement with Bayer
In June of last year, Bayer AG (formerly Monsanto) announced settlements in principle with Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman and other leading law firms in the Monsanto Roundup litigation. The settlements resolved tens of thousands of cases for over $10 billion. Fierce Pharma called the agreement “the largest settlement in pharma history,” as Bayer is known primarily as a pharmaceutical company.
Each law firm completed individual settlement agreements, which came after over a year of negotiations and three straight trial losses for Bayer. Brent served on the trial teams in all three Roundup trials and was co-lead counsel in the first and third Roundup trials. The first trial, Johnson v. Monsanto Co., resulted in a groundbreaking $289 million verdict for Mr. Johnson. The third trial, Pilliod et al. v. Monsanto Co., resulted in a $2.055 billion verdict for the plaintiffs.
In addition to his role as co-lead trial counsel, Brent spent countless hours negotiating with Bayer to reach the Roundup settlement.
“Our firms have collectively sounded the alarm about the dangers of Roundup for years,” Mr. Wisner said after the settlement announcement. “While today’s settlement is welcome news for our clients who need and deserve financial relief as quickly as possible, we will continue to do everything in our power to get Bayer and the EPA to change the Roundup label so it accurately reflects the link to cancer. A fair and accurate safety warning to all consumers who use this product is long overdue.”
$2.055B Verdict in Pilliod et al. v. Monsanto Co.
Pilliod et al. v. Monsanto Co. was the third Monsanto Roundup lawsuit to proceed to trial. Brent served as co-lead counsel for Alva and Alberta Pilliod, a California couple who alleged exposure to Roundup weed killer caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Brent delivered the opening and closing statements, presented most of the scientific evidence, and cross-examined many of Monsanto’s experts.
After weeks of trial, the jury returned a verdict on May 13, 2019, awarding $2.055 billion to the plaintiffs. The jury found that Roundup caused the Pilliods’ cancer and that Monsanto failed to warn consumers of this severe health hazard. The jury also found that Monsanto acted with malice, oppression, or fraud and should be punished for its conduct.
With the Pilliod verdict, Brent became the youngest attorney to ever earn a multi-billion-dollar jury award. Pilliod was the ninth-largest personal injury jury verdict in U.S. history and the second-largest jury verdict in the U.S. for 2019.
The judge overseeing the Pilliod trial denied Monsanto’s (now Bayer) motion for JNOV (judgment notwithstanding verdict) but conditionally granted Monsanto’s motion for a new trial unless the Pilliods consented to the reduced judgment of $86.74 million. The Pilliods accepted the reduction and Monsanto filed its appeal, which is pending.
$289M Verdict in Dewayne “Lee” Johnson v. Monsanto Co.
Dewayne “Lee” Johnson v. Monsanto Co. was the first Monsanto Roundup lawsuit to proceed to trial. Brent, who was 34 at the time, was co-lead counsel for Mr. Johnson. He delivered the opening and closing statements, presented most of the scientific evidence, and cross-examined many of Monsanto’s experts.
On August 10, 2018, the jury awarded Mr. Johnson $289 million, finding that Roundup caused Mr. Johnson to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto failed to warn of this severe health hazard. The jury also found that Monsanto should be punished for its conduct and awarded punitive damages to Mr. Johnson. The Johnson verdict was the second-largest in California for 2018, and in the top 10 nationally.
The judge overseeing the Johnson case later reduced the punitive damages to $39.25 million, which brought the combined damages to $78.5 million. Monsanto (now Bayer) went on to appeal the jury verdict. Brent assisted with writing the appeal brief and helped prepare for argument.
In 2020, the First District Court of Appeal upheld the jury verdict, finding that Monsanto is liable on the failure-to-warn claims because substantial evidence was presented that Roundup’s risks were “known or knowable” to Monsanto. The Court reduced the total damages to $20.5 million. Bayer did not seek Supreme Court review, so the litigation has concluded.
Monsanto Roundup Class Action Litigation
Brent and Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman managing partner Michael L. Baum were among the attorneys of record in the Roundup class action litigation, which accused Monsanto and ScottsMiracle-Gro of illegal marketing, distribution, sale, and promotion of Roundup products.
The class alleged that a statement appearing on some Roundup product labels, which states that glyphosate, a key ingredient, “targets an enzyme found in plants but not in people or pets,” is false and misleading. During discovery, Brent was able to get Monsanto to concede that glyphosate does, in fact, influence an enzyme in the human gut biome, which could lead to significant health effects.
In March of 2020, Bayer agreed to pay $39.5 million to settle allegations that its Monsanto unit ran misleading advertisements for Roundup. As part of the proposed settlement, the language will be removed from applicable Roundup labels.
Painters & Allied Trades Dist. Council 82 Health Care Fund v. Takeda Pharm. Co.
In this case, Brent successfully briefed and argued before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a California court decision in a federal RICO class action. The complaint was filed on behalf of a healthcare fund and consumers from multiple states against defendants Takeda and Eli Lilly.
The allegations in Painters involve Actos (pioglitazone), a drug that was developed and marketed lower blood sugar for people with type 2 diabetes. The plaintiffs in the case allege the drug makers intentionally misled consumers and refused to change the warning label for Actos or otherwise inform the public after learning the drug increased the risk of bladder cancer in patients taking the medication.
The case marks an important evolution of RICO law both in the Ninth Circuit and nationally because it paves the way for economically harmed plaintiffs to bring civil RICO claims against drug manufacturers. The availability of a national cause of action that allows for trebled damages gives aggrieved consumers and third-party payers the ability to prevent and discourage economic windfalls made by drug companies at the expense of people’s health.
In June of 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up Takeda Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly Co.’s appeal.
About R. Brent Wisner
R. Brent Wisner is an attorney and senior shareholder at Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman where he focuses his practice on pharmaceutical litigation, toxic-tort injuries, class actions, and consumer fraud litigation.
One of Baum Hedlund’s lead trial attorneys, Brent takes great pride in working up all facets of litigation—from briefing, expert discovery, through trial and, if needed, appeal. He is the youngest attorney ever to earn a multi-billion-dollar jury award. After his groundbreaking work in the Monsanto litigation, Brent is widely viewed as one of the nation’s top trial lawyers.