A San Francisco jury will decide soon whether the weedkiller Roundup made by Monsanto caused the cancer of a man in California. The trial began Feb. 26, 2019, and attorneys watching say the outcome could be a major factor in the fates of other Roundup cancer lawsuits.
Edwin Hardeman, 70, is only the second plaintiff to go to trial of the many thousands around the US who are claiming Monsanto’s weedkiller causes non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL). Monsanto has consistently argued that its weedkiller, containing the active ingredient glyphosate, is completely safe. (chicagotribune.com)
However, attorney Brent Wisner, representing Hardeman stated outside court that Monsanto needs to be honest with customers and admit there is strong evidence that use of the weedkiller can cause cancer. If these trials continue to come down against Monsanto, the company will face potentially billions of dollars in liabilities.
Bellwether Trial Could Lead to Hundreds of Other Lawsuits
Another San Francisco jury last August awarded a former groundskeeper $289 million after it determined that the weedkiller caused his NHL. A judge reduced that judgement to $78 million and Monsanto filed an appeal. However, this trial features another judge and could be a case with even more far reaching effects. US Judge Vince Chhabria is providing oversight of several hundred lawsuits regarding Roundup and has said that Hardeman’s case, as well as two others, are important bellwether trials.
Wisner told the media if the Hardeman case is successful, it will send a strong signal to Monsanto and its parent company Bayer AG that they have a major problem with the safety of Roundup.
The outcome of these cases often help prosecuting attorneys to determine if it is worth fighting similar lawsuits through trial or to settle. If the jury decides in favor of Hardeman, attorneys would have a stronger position for bargaining for any other weedkiller settlement talks that remain in the cases to be decided by Chhabria, according to legal experts.
Thousands of Other Lawsuits Pending
At this time, it is estimated there are more than 9000 other Roundup cases still pending in state courts across America. The outcomes of these cases are unclear at this time; many government authorities in the US have rejected a possible link between cancer and Roundup. Monsanto continues to deny there is a link between its product and NHL. It argues that hundreds of clinical studies have shown their product is safe.
The weedkiller Roundup was developed in the 1970s and it is now sold in at least 160 countries and is used heavily in the US. The herbicide began to get more scrutiny after the International Agency for Research on Cancer or IARC, which is part of the WHO, classified it as a probable human carcinogen.
Hundreds of lawsuits against Monsanto were filed soon after this report was released. Monsanto has been aggressive in attacking the IARC report as an outlier. The EPA on the other hand, has stated Roundup is safe for people, if it is used according to its instructions.
Hardeman Used Roundup On His Property for Years
The lawsuit came about because Hardeman used various Roundup products on his property in California to treat overgrowth, weeds and poison oak in the 1980s. He continued to use the products through 2012. He was then diagnosed with NHL in 2015.
Judge Threatens to Sanction Cancer Patient’s Attorney
The start of the trial did not come without bumps for the plaintiffs. In an unusual move in a crowded courtroom this week, Chhabria made a threat to sanction and shut down one of the cancer patient’s attorneys for breaking the ban on discussing Monsanto’s influence on cancer research, the EPA and other government regulators. (theguardian.com)
The judge was visibly angry, noting that the attorney had disregarded all the limitations that were set on her by the court. Chhabria warned attorney Aimee Wagstaff if she crossed the line again, he would shut down her opening statement completely. He also said if he saw anything on the attorney’s slides that was controversial, he would shut her down.
The rare conflict in the federal courtroom in San Francisco has raised concerns among the critics of Monsanto and Roundup that the trial could be stacked against the plaintiff. Building on allegations that have been around for years, Hardeman’s attorneys said Monsanto has suppressed has been aggressive in suppressing negative clinical studies about Roundup, and also worked to ghostwrite studies in favor of the product to influence consumers and US regulators.
In another blow to the plaintiffs, Chhabria approved a Monsanto request this year to ban attorneys for Hardeman from raising controversial allegations about the conduct of the company. He said in his ruling that issues about how the company influenced science and government were a major distraction from the key issues of the trial. This means jurors are limited to considering studies that surround the cancer risks of Roundup, and if they decide that Roundup caused the man’s cancer, then another part of the jury would learn of Monsanto’s conduct when it came time to assess liability and possibly punitive damages.
Plaintiff’s Attorney Argues Limitations on Evidence Are Unfair
Wagstaff told the media in Europe last week before the trial started that limits on evidence that could be presented in the first part of the trial mean the jury is only going to hear 50% of the story.
She said the jury will hear something about the science, but they will not hear about how the company had an influence on it. Wagstaff continued that the jury is not going to have a complete grasp of the science. But if the plaintiff wins without the jury really understanding the science, it is a huge loss for Monsanto.
- Monsanto Roundup Cancer Trial Underway. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-monsanto-roundup-cancer-trial-20190226-story.html
- Monsanto Federal Trial Roundup – Cancer. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/feb/25/monsanto-federal-trial-roundup-cancer