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I still remember the onset of my legal journey. Being the first member of my family to join this field, everyone was quite skeptical about my decision. I am not sure if it was ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ that had a bad influence on their minds or some supreme court lawyer whose ‘briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.’
But now, watching the spark in my father’s eyes whenever he discussed his legal problems with me, I am a proud officer of the court; here to summarize almost everything you need to know about the multi-billion dollar Roundup lawsuit debate that is going on.
You must have seen a trigger warning on the cigarette boxes “smoking is injurious to health” or “tobacco kills.” If the cigarette companies want, they can stop printing this caution on their product. Still, they are duty-bound under the law to reveal any such information regarding the safety of their product.
A similar lawsuit is in progression in the United States against a company, Bayer, titled Roundup Products Liability Litigation. This case was initiated in 2016 and is currently in progress. Aggrieved people from different states in the US (California, Illinois, and Hawaii notably) filed cases in their respective courts against the same company, Bayer. However, you might have noticed that this lawsuit’s title is different from the usual court cases. And it should be, as it is a compilation of thousands of lawsuits.
Trust me, if you have ever used roundup weed killer, you do not want to miss reading out this article.
A Brief Summary of the Case:
The case filed against Bayer was a personal injury tort for selling a faulty product that causes cancer. The case was civil in nature. The first case was registered in a district court under rule 3 of the Rules of Civil Procedure for the US district courts by filing a complaint with the District Court of California.
Bayer is the world’s largest chemical and pharmaceutical maker. Along with other products, it produces Roundup, an herbicide, to kill weeds and other unwanted plants. The roundup weed killer is considered highly effective, commonly used, and the best weed killer globally. Distressed and concerned people alleged that Roundup contained glyphosate, a chemical causing cancer.
The suits were filed mainly by two types of people: those who were long-time users of Roundup; and those whole developed a medical condition, non hodgkins lymphoma (NHL), a variety of cancer, after being exposed to Roundup.
People who came forward with such claims and demanded compensation from Bayer. The compensation sought damages award, medical expenses and bills, and reward for mental stress. However, three out of thousands of cases reached the trial stage in 2018. The court awarded millions of dollars in damages to them. The company sorted a settlement plan of $10 billion regarding other pending cases and $1.25 billion for future lawsuits.
The company wanted to get out of the hassle and close the chapter once and for all. However, the settlement plan is yet to be confirmed by the court.
The Need for Discussing this Case:
This mass-tort case is considered one of the most significant settlements across the States that deals with the Restatement (third) of Torts: Product Liability 1998. Its section 9 says that a manufacturer is liable for selling or distributing the product. And if he makes a fraudulent, negligent, or innocent misrepresentation about a product, he would be responsible for the harm to the person by using that product.
Early actions of the aggrieved parties raised awareness among others to bring claims who had also developed similar health issues by using Roundup. In my view, the roundup lawsuit made people conscious of their rights to bring claims and demand compensation against a default product or a wrong action. This cancer lawsuit gave confidence to the people to raise their voices even if it involves suing some multi-billion corporation.
A Brief History of Roundup That Might Interest You:
Roundup weed killer was manufactured by an American-based corporation, Monsanto. In 2018 Monsanto was bought by a German company, Bayer. Technically speaking, Monsanto was dissolved and merged into the existing Bayer. (Monsanto’s name is used for the documentation purpose for the cases initiated before 2018). Bayer had no idea that it was not only purchasing Monsanto and Roundup but also the future litigations as well.
After 2018 the production and selling of Roundup remained continuous.
Problem with the Roundup Weed Killer
The Nature of Roundup:
Roundup is a worldwide efficient weed killer. It is frequently used by farmers, housekeepers, gardeners, and a common household. It contains glyphosate, which effectively kills weeds and other hydroponic plants. It is manufactured for those plants or grass only that are glyphosate-resistant to avoid damage.
Does Roundup Really Have Carcinogenic Abilities?
Human humane exposure increases twofold when herbicides are sprayed or spread over vegetative plants and flowers. They can be inhaled directly and also through the food we consume. The core issue of the lawsuit was based on health concerns that emerged due to the use of Roundup weed killer.
Roundup was accused of causing a specific type of cancer called non hodgkins Lymphoma (NHL). It’s the disease of the lymphatic system that weakens your body’s defense. In 2015 International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) suggested in its report that glyphosate, a major element of the herbicide, was “probably carcinogenic.” This less than definitive and more than dubious proposition suggested that Roundup could cause cancer in humans.
On the contrary, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in its 2017 research, alleged that glyphosate had no carcinogenic properties. Similarly, in 2019, EPA restated that glyphosate could not cause cancer in human bodies, rejecting the stance of IARC.
However, in 2019, the University of Washington again described the causal link between glyphosate and cancer.
Precautions as to Use of Roundup by Bayer/Monsanto:
As you already know by now, Roundup contains glyphosate. This compound, glyphosate, was first manufactured in 1970 and was introduced to the market in 1974 by a company named Monsanto. However, there wasn’t any trigger warning mentioned on the product, nor any precautionary measures were cited, such as; using gloves avoiding direct contact, keeping away from the nose, wearing a mask while applying, changing the clothes after use, etc.
Until 2015, there was no study available that declared glyphosate a carcinogen. Even after the world health organization institute, IARC, claimed that it probably had cancerous properties, no warnings were sounded by the company regarding the use of Roundup. However, this failure to inform about roundup cancer proved a blessing in disguise for the victims. It deprived Bayer of coming up with a good defense.
Filling of the Case against Bayer/Monsanto
The Lee Case:
The first roundup cancer lawsuit filed against Monsanto in 2016 was titled Lee Johnson v. Monsanto Co. Lee Johnson started working as a pest manager in a school in 2012. He had to spray 150 gallons of Roundup on weeds around the school on a specific day. This continuous exposure to herbicides led him to serious health issues. In 2014 he developed some skin irritation but did not pay much attention. As fate would have it, he was subsequently diagnosed with T-cells lymphoma.
He contacted Monsanto’s doctor via email and inquired about any relationship concerning his situation with the use of the roundup weedkiller. However, he never received any answer from Monsanto.
Fortunately, in 2015 IARC published its report and contended that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen. Lee’s medical history and job’s nature forced him to conclude that continuous exposure to Roundup caused him T-cell lymphoma. Seeing no other way out, he decided to sue Monsanto and asked for compensation, constituting a personal injury lawsuit in 2016.
The Edwin Case:
Similarly, Edwin Hardeman and his wife used Roundup weed killer for decades on their personal property to treat poisoned oak. They used it from 1986 until 2012. Unfortunately, in 2015, Edwin was diagnosed with B-cell non hodgkin lymphoma. And in February 2016, he decided to sue Monsanto, claiming compensation in another roundup cancer lawsuit.
The Pilliods Case:
A similar situation occurred in the case of Alva and Alberta Pilliod, who had been using Roundup for decades. After staying exposed to glyphosate for years, the couple developed non hodgkin lymphoma. They sued Monsanto, accusing it of deceiving the public and spreading misinformation regarding the safety of roundup weedkiller, initiating a personal injury lawsuit. They also contended that Monsanto never gave a single warning nor any precautionary measures while using Roundup.
The above-discussed cases reached their trial stage, and compensation was awarded in each of them.
The Procedural History of the Roundup Product Liability Litigation:
In 2016 litigation commenced against Monsanto for product liability; the claimants alleged that Roundup was cancerous and had been causing non hodgkin lymphoma to its best users. They had only one substantial argument for bringing such a claim:
People brought claims against Monsanto that it had failed to warn customers about the glyphosate severity. They demanded monetary compensation.
The Consolidation of All of the Roundup Lawsuits:
One of the plaintiffs filed an application to unify all the cases, as it would become easy for the court to deal with such cases after consolidation. These cases had the same judge, the same cause of action, the same issue, and the same defendant. Vince Chhabria J., the US district court judge for Northern California, decided to consolidate all the cases.
He ordered the court’s registrar to develop a separate file for such cases and titled it “Roundup product liability litigation.” It was a Multi-District-Litigation (MDL), and Judge Chhabria headed the MDL of the roundup cancer lawsuit.
Monetary Awards and the Decisions of the Jury:
Judge Chhabria picked three cases and proceeded them to the trial position. After fair trials, the jury awarded compensation worth millions of dollars.
- Lee Johnson v. Monsanto Co. was the first case that reached trial in 2018. In August 2018, the 46 years old school groundkeeper was awarded compensation of $250 million in punitive damages and $39 million in compensatory damages. The total award was reduced to $78.5 million, and in 2020 the whole award was further reduced to $20 million.
- The second MDL roundup trial case was Hardeman v. Monsanto Co. In this case, the jury awarded compensation of $80 million to the affected, $5 million in punitive damages, and $75 million in compensation. In 2021 court of appeals also upheld the award.
- Pilliod v. Monsanto Co. was the third trial case produced before a jury. When finding a causal link between the NHL suffered by the couple and their continuous use of Roundup, the jury awarded $2.05 billion in compensation. The jury ordered to pay $50 million in compensatory damages and $2 billion in punitive damages. ($1 billion for each). However, the total award was later reduced to $86.7 million. The judge argued that the original award did not comply with the precedent.
Not all of the Roundup Personal Injury Lawsuits Were Decided in Favor of the Plaintiffs:
In 2021 only two cases’ verdicts were announced in favor of Bayer.
Destiny Clark v. Monsanto:
In October 2021, the jury said there wasn’t a substantive cause between the NHL of the child and Roundup exposure.
Donneta Stephens v. Monsanto:
In December 2021, the jury presented the same findings based on no causal link between NHL and Roundup and decreed in favor of Bayer.
The Reasons for Bayer Coming Up with a Settlement Policy
Bayer was facing more than 125,000 cases. The significant awards in favor of the plaintiffs compelled the German company to reach a settlement. The reasons for reaching a settlement were:
- The prospective and even bigger than before compensatory awards in favor of the plaintiffs.
- With covid-19 delaying the matter, Bayer wanted to escape the prolonged litigation process.
Suggestions Proposed in the Settlement:
Bayer proposed a settlement of $10 billion to resolve the already existing cases. $8.8 to $9.6 billion were proposed to dispose of 95% of the pending lawsuits. Furthermore, $1.25 billion was also reserved for resolving future cancer lawsuits.
The Condition of Constituting Science Panel:
The reserved amount of $1.25 billion for future cases was proposed to thwart the new litigation against Bayer. However, it also proposed a contingency for the settlement with the future plaintiff. Bayer suggested that an A-class science panel would be framed. It would conduct proper research in the prospective cases, determining whether the non hodgkin lymphoma was caused by glyphosate. However, if the panel found out that NHL wasn’t caused by Roundup use, the plaintiff should accept the decision.
Also, the plaintiff would not be able to bring separate litigation against Bayer.
The Reasons Why Court Did not Approve the Settlement Plan
From the start, Judge Chhabria, heading the MDL Roundup cancer lawsuits, showed reservations about approving the settlement plan proposed by Bayer. He was skeptical concerning the $1.25 billion that how it could be applied to settle the future claims. He expressed his reservations as,
- The substantive question of finding the causal link between NHL and glyphosate is the duty of the court and not of a science panel. Therefore, this court’s responsibility cannot be bestowed on the science panel.
- This panel requires some time to do research and reach a conclusion. For this specific period, the case would not be able to proceed.
- The settlement stipulated that if the panel finds out that there is no causal link between NHL and glyphosate, the plaintiff must accept the decision.
- It is intolerable to disallow the plaintiff to start new litigation against Bayer.
The Future of Roundup Cancer Lawsuits
You might be wondering what will happen next. The proposed settlement of approximately $2billion for future cases to resolve is decided uniquely. The company projected that each prospective claimant would be paid “$5000 to $200,000” compensation depending on the severity of the case. But before providing compensation, as you may know, the A-class science panel would come into action and reach a conclusion, and the damages would only be awarded based on the panel’s research.
How Do I View this Settlement:
When I first heard about the settlement plan proposed by Bayer, I could think of no other words than ‘leaving the fox guarding the henhouse.’ The prima facie proposition, though it might seem pretty fascinating, puts the very guilty in charge of justice. The science panel will work under the influence of the defendant, whose decision will be final.
This questions the very establishment and purpose of the courts, as the aggrieved would be left with no other option to seek justice if the science panel decides against them.
If You have a Case against Roundup, Wait No More!
After reading this lawsuit guide, if you feel you have a claim against the German corporation giant, you have to ensure the below-mentioned contingencies.
- An old user of Roundup: Before bringing a claim, you have to make sure that you have evidence regarding Roundup used bottles, receipts of purchasing, or the record from the mart from where you bought it, etc.
- Patients of NHL (Or T-cells Lymphoma): You have to ensure that you have contracted NHL and that your lymphatic system isn’t functioning properly. Bring the medical reports, prescriptions, CT scans, and medical bills that show developed NHL to strengthen your stance.
- Prove the causal link: After consulting your lawyer, develop a strong argument based on the continuous use of Roundup that affected your health gravely.
- To seek compensation: For seeking compensation, you have to prove that the company has failed to warn prior in time about the safety measures. Plead that your medical bills and expenses were way out of your income. You can also argue that your health issues restricted your ability to work. Furthermore, you have faced a financial crisis due to your medical condition.
To claim compensation, the issues of affordability or financial issues are secondary in nature. The biggest failure is on the part of the company that portrayed Roundup as safe as “table salt” with no toxic properties.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Question: How would I know I have non-Hodgkin lymphoma?
Answer: If you have been using Roundup, professionally or personally, and see the following symptoms, you must consult a doctor to clear your doubts.
Lymph nodes under the armpits, neck, and groin are swollen
Chest congestion, coughing, and shortness of breath
Trouble in breathing
Sudden weight loss
Contusions on body
Bloated or swollen belly (abdomen)
Don’t waste your time if you are a Roundup user and observe these symptoms; immediately consult your doctor.
Question: What if I don’t want to become a part of the settlement?
Answer: The plan to settle the case proposed by Bayer isn’t approved by the court. The court has also shown reservations about the conditions of the proposal. If you file a claim against Bayer, you can still go to litigation and seek compensation.
Question: Is it compulsory to become a part of MDL?
Answer: If you have the same case as MDLs, your case would directly become a part of that Multi-District Legislation. However, suppose there is a variation in your claims’ cause of action or objectives. In that case, your case could be proceeded separately.
Question: Is Multi-District Legislation the same as a class action?
Answer: Roundup is not a class action but rather a Multi-District-Litigation, a consolidation of several cases. There is a difference between a class action and consolidated cases. In class actions, a group of people have the same claim against the same person/company and nominate one of them as their representative. That chosen nominee files the suit on behalf of the class and represents the interest in the court. He is the one who is directly involved in the lawsuit and oversees the proceedings.
Whereas the consolidation of the case means numerous people file an individual lawsuit of similar nature against the same person/company, and the questions of law and fact are the same in their cases. However, the court has the prerogative to fuse those lawsuits before a judge or a jury.
Question: How long does the settlement process take?
Answer: Well, it depends on the parties and how early they reach an agreement. Litigation takes time, as you have to file the case first, notify the other party, wait for their reply, and so on. This process takes quite some time. However, on the contrary, in settlement plans, the parties are the primary authorities. If they reach a settlement early, the case will be resolved soon.
You might have heard about an issue wherein a person consumes a product. Right after the exposure, they develop serious health issues. And after investigation, it turns out that the commodity they have interacted with is faulty, and some of its ingredients have caused them medical problems.
Monsanto, since the 1980s, knew that glyphosate was harmful to health. Still, they never warned the public to take precautionary measures.
This failure on the part of Monsanto/Bayer left them no choice but to face the lawsuit of product liability. If they had mentioned the precaution, the situation might never have reached the settlement plan of $10 billion. IARC’s 2015 research became the basis of thousands of cases against Monsanto/Bayer for selling Roundup by deceiving the public and the government.
Bayer prearranged a clearance plan of almost $11 billion to put a blockade on existing and future litigations. This strategy is subject to court sanction and has not been permitted yet. Also, the proposed idea does not create a bar on bringing new claims against Bayer. In my opinion, you should only go for the future settlement if you have strong and clear medical records establishing the roundup cancer.
However, if you think you might not get justice from the science panel, you can still knock at the court door anytime, and our legal fraternity and the officers of the court of law will always be there to help you.