Roundup bellwether trial concludes with $80 million plaintiff’s verdict

Several thousand lawsuits are pending in state courts around the country in which the plaintiffs claim that the weed killer Roundup caused them to develop cancer – specifically, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  About 800 such cases brought in federal courts have been consolidated as multidistrict litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, under the management of Judge Vince Chhabria. 

I previously wrote that Judge Chhabria’s decision to bifurcate the second bellwether trial – causation first, liability and damages second – would create difficulties for the plaintiff.  As it turned out, plaintiff’s counsel overcame those difficulties brilliantly.  On March 19, 2019, after a four-week trial and four days of deliberation, “a unanimous jury decision…handed a first-round victory to plaintiff Edwin Hardeman, as the six jury members found that Hardeman’s exposure to Roundup was a ‘substantial factor’ in causing his non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”  And on March 27, after a much shorter second-phase trial, the jury returned an $80 million verdict for the plaintiff, including $75 million in punitive damages “for…failing to warn of the cancer risks of its herbicides despite years of published scientific data highlighting the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate-based herbicides.”  Judge Chhabria, who had expressed considerable skepticism about the plaintiff’s case when he ordered bifurcation, was entirely turned around by the evidence; in his order denying the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, he wrote that there was “a great deal of evidence” to support a punitive damages award against Monsanto and to show that the company “has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of its product….[There is] strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue.”  And now, with the third bellwether trial not yet completed, Judge Chhabria is urging the defendants to begin mediation with an eye towards settlement.

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