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Monsanto Roundup Cancer Appeal, Bayer Blames Coronavirus

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The first ever Monsanto cancer trial is scheduled for an appeal in June 2020, and Bayer attempts to use coronavirus as an excuse to renege on settlements.

Santa Clara, CAA hearing by a California appeals court has been scheduled for June 2 in the case of Dewayne “Lee” Johnson v. Monsanto. Johnson was the first cancer victim to take Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) to court. His case garnered attention worldwide and opened the floodgates for tens of thousands of Monsanto Roundup lawsuits.

Johnson’s trial concluded that Monsanto’s Roundup caused his cancer-- non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In August, 2018, Johnson was awarded $289 million, including $250 million in punitive damages. In October 2018, the judge reduced the punitive damages to $39 million, putting the total verdict to $78 million, which Johnson cross-appealed. The appeal is filed in the California 1st District Court of Appeal.

Monsanto’s Appeal


Monsanto wants the trial overturned. It has asked the court to either:
  • Reverse the trial decision and enter a judgment for Monsanto
  • Reverse and remand the case for a new trial.
  • Reduce the portion of the jury award for “future noneconomic damages” from $33 million to $1.5 million and to wipe out the punitive damages altogether. 
 Monsanto has argued that the verdict was flawed because of exclusion of key evidence and the “distortion of reliable science,” among other things.

In late February Bayer said in its annual report that lawsuits related to Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller may force it to sell assets, issue new equity or borrow money at unfavorable terms, reported Bloomberg. But Chief Executive Officer Werner Baumann said Bayer has “quite a solid balance sheet” to cover the growing costs of its legal troubles.


Bayer Blames Coronavirus


At the beginning of April, Reuters reported that talks between Bayer and plaintiff lawyers to settle Monsanto cancer claims had stalled due to the coronavirus crisis; Baumann said he was under no time pressure to strike a settlement deal and that he would not submit to a schedule or deadline. But plaintiffs’ lawyers disagree.

Rather, Bayer has gone back to law firms that had already completed negotiations for specified settlements for their clients, saying the company will not honor the agreed-upon amounts, according to U.S. Right to Know, a non-profit investigative research group focused on the food industry.

Bayer said it’s pushing for a “financially reasonable” settlement that also resolves the potential for future claims. The company said that, “Against the background of a looming recession and looking at, in part, considerable liquidity challenges, this applies now more than ever,” reported Fortune.com, which also reported that “Customers stocking up on supplies early on in the outbreak also boosted Bayer [earnings].

Bayer’s stall for time may help the company keep the total amount of Roundup settlements under $10 billion, predicted a Bloomberg analyst.

So, Bayer is hopeful that an appeals court will believe its settlement negotiations have been stalled by the virus and therefore, plaintiffs will have to settle for less – about 20 percent less.

Chris Loder, a U.S.-based Bayer spokesman, said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg that the “Covid-19 dynamics, including restrictions imposed in recent weeks, have caused meeting cancellations and delayed this process…We cannot speculate about potential outcomes from the negotiations or timing, given the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic and the confidentiality of this process, but we remain committed to engaging in good-faith talks.”

Granted, COVID-19 created a setback. Government closures and U.S. courthouses don’t anticipate additional trials anytime soon.

In its first-quarter earnings statement Bayer said the number of plaintiffs claiming that Roundup caused their cancers rose to 52,500 from 48,600 in February. Some analysts say the current tally of plaintiffs may well more than 80,000.

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