An important partial success for Bayer AG: In the first US trial for alleged cancer risks of weed killers of the subsidiary Monsanto with the controversial drug glyphosate, a turnaround is beginning.
Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos has provisionally filed a motion to reopen the case on Wednesday (local time) in San Francisco. She made the Bayer Group hope for a significantly lower sentence in a hearing. The case is hugely important for the agrochemical giant – it’s about a $ 289 million (€ 251 million) verdict that sends a signal for thousands more lawsuits.
In August, a California jury jury sentenced Monsanto to claiming hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for the lymph node cancer patient Dewayne “Lee” Johnson. The jury considered it proven that glyphosate-containing Monsanto products are carcinogenic and that the manufacturer not only failed to warn them sufficiently, but even veiled the risks in malicious intent. Monsanto appealed and demanded that the case be renegotiated due to insufficient evidence. The court largely agreed to this on a provisional basis.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers have not presented “clear and convincing evidence” of Monsanto’s intentional misconduct, according to Judge Bolanos. This could significantly reduce the damages. The subsequent, more than two hours long court hearing was sometimes heated – Monsanto’s defense lawyers made hefty allegations against the plaintiff. In particular, they accused the lawyer Brent Wisner, who had won the verdict of August, to have incensed the jury with falsehoods. “This was not a fair trial,” said Monsanto’s lawyer George Lombardi several times and vehemently demanded a reissue.
Wisner, who could not appear personally in court and was represented by his colleague Michael Miller, reported angrily on the phone: “I am constantly accused of lying here,” while he behaved correctly to the jury. The jury would have made a well-considered decision – that should not be lifted. Monsanto had been particularly annoyed by Wisner’s comparisons with the tobacco industry, which had to pay several billion franchisees for fraudulent misrepresentation about the risks of cigarettes.
Judge Bolanos ended the trial without a formal order to send the trial to the next round. She called on the parties to submit their arguments in writing by Friday and announced that they would be finally committed. For investors, the preliminary decision was already very well received. The stock price of Bayer in the after-hours trading in an initial reaction by almost five percent. After the verdict in August, it had come to a sharp price collapse, the Bayes stock market value temporarily reduced by over 15 billion euros.
For Monsanto’s German parent company, which had taken over the US seed giant based in St. Louis for about $ 63 billion in the middle of the year, the decision of the court of tremendous importance. In the United States, about 8700 complaints about possible illnesses caused by glyphosate against Monsanto. The Johnson case is particularly volatile, since it is the first judgment and could be indicative of the numerous other lawsuits.
In 2014, 46-year-old Johnson had been diagnosed with lymphatic gland cancer. He blamed Monsanto weed killers Roundup and Ranger Pro for his illness. With the products he handled frequently in his former job as groundskeeper in California schools. Johnson may not live much longer, according to his doctors because of his advanced cancer, so he was entitled to a faster start in California. Should Judge Bolano order new negotiations, Johnson’s attorneys should try to challenge this decision.
The question as to whether Monsanto’s bestseller Roundup can lead to cancer has been contested for years – so far, there is no clear answer from science. The World Health Organization (WHO) International Agency for the Evaluation of Cancer classified the widespread weed killer in 2015 as “likely to cause cancer” for humans. Monsanto and Bayer vehemently reject this and refer to “more than 800 scientific studies, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institutes of Health and overseers worldwide,” showing that glyphosate is safe and does not cause cancer.