The first federal “bellwether” trial over Monsanto hiding cancer risks associated with Roundup is well under way in San Francisco. The jury heard the Roundup plaintiff testify this week that he experienced frequent exposure to the glyphosate-based weed killer before his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) diagnosis. Furthermore, an expert witness indicated that the herbicide has substantial cancer risks.
The federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) selected Roundup plaintiff Edwin Hardeman’s case to go to trial first in its bellwether program. These early test trials help parties evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of their cases and to gauge jury reactions to evidence that appears throughout the litigation.
In a break from the traditional product liability trial format. the court has split the trial into two phases. The first phase will determine whether there is enough evidence to prove the weed killer caused the Roundup plaintiff to develop cancer. In the second phase, the jury will consider if Monsanto deliberately withheld safety warnings to protect profits at the peril of people.
Due to the trial’s structure, the court is limiting the evidence the jury will hear during the initial phase.
Roundup Plaintiff Testimony Kicks Off Trial’s Second Week
The trial kicked into high gear this week with the Roundup plaintiff testifying that he regularly got Roundup on his skin during the nearly 30 years that he used the weed killer around his home. Hardeman, 70, indicated that he normally sprayed for several hours each day, and the containers often leaked the herbicide on his skin. Furthermore, the wind also often blew Roundup back onto his body and caused him to breath in the chemical. In 2012, he stopped using Roundup. He was diagnosed with NHL in 2016.
This week has also seen testimony from one of the plaintiff’s expert witnesses. Pathologist Dr. Dennis Weisenburger testified regarding his glyphosate research. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup. Dr. Weisenburger said the chemical can penetrate the cells of the skin to contaminate the blood. He further indicated that it was his medical opinion that glyphosate is a significant cause of cancer among people who used Roundup regularly.
Roundup Cancer Litigation
Currently, there are more than 10,000 other Roundup lawsuits pending throughout the nation’s courts, all involving similar allegations.
Hardeman’s case is the first to go to trial in the federal litigation. However, a California state-court jury awarded $289 million in 2018 to a former school groundskeeper who was dying from NHL after spraying Roundup regularly for years. Initially, the jury verdict for the Roundup plaintiff included $39 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages to punish Monsanto for actively endangering consumers for the sake of sales.
The trial judge drastically reduced the jury award. However, the remaining final judgement of $78.5 million still sent a strong message to Bayer and its investors about how juries are likely to respond to similar evidence that its Monsanto acquisition concealed the Roundup cancer risk for decades.
After Hardeman’s trial, at least two more federal bellwether claims are going to trial this year. Numerous of state court cases are going to trial as well throughout 2019 unless Bayer begins negotiating Roundup settlements to resolve the litigation.