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February 1, 2019

Monsanto MDL Trial to Allow Roundup Regulatory Manipulation Evidence

The District Judge overseeing the federal Roundup cancer litigation rejected Monsanto’s bid to exclude compelling evidence of Roundup regulatory manipulation during the first phase of the trial set to begin next month, ruling that Bayer’s agrochemical unit's blatant manipulation of regulators and scientific studies was “super relevant” to the underlying question of whether the popular weedkiller causes cancer.

Currently, there are about 10,000 claims pending throughout the state and federal court systems nationwide. The lawsuits all involve similar allegations that frequent exposure to Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, and other ingredients in the herbicide caused users to develop non-Hodgins lymphoma (NHL). Plaintiffs assert that Monsanto knew about the significant link between Roundup and cancer for years but actively concealed the risks to protect profits at the cost of human life.

Roundup regulatory manipulation

flickr/Rob Kall

Roundup Regulatory Manipulation MDL

Due to the striking similarities in the allegations, injuries, and questions of law in the claims pending throughout the federal court system, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) consolidated the entirety of the litigation to serve judicial efficiency by reducing conflicting pretrial rulings and duplicative discovery. District Judge Vince Chhabria is presiding over the MDL in the Northern District of California. The MDL is currently in the process of launching the bellwether trial process. These early “test” trials help gauge how juries are likely to respond to evidence and testimony that is present throughout the litigation.

This past year, California state court ordered Monsanto to pay $78.5 million to a former school groundskeeper after he developed fatal NHL from exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides on the job. The jury determined the agrochemical behemoth knew about Roundup’s significant cancer risks but provided grossly misleading information to federal regulators and consumers, telling the public that Roundup was “safer than table salt.”

MDL plaintiffs intend on presenting evidence from this trial that indicates Monsanto actively conspired to sway regulators and independent studies. The company even went so far as to ghostwrite reports that it used to avoid stricter regulations on the weed killer that would have cut into the product’s market share.

In early January, Judge Chhabria granted Monsanto’s request to bifurcate the upcoming MDL trial, which the court has scheduled to begin February 25. This means that the parties will present the case to the jury in two phases. The first phase will address if Roundup exposure could have caused plaintiff Edwin Hardemann’s NHL diagnosis. The second phase will directly address Monsanto’s failure to warn about the risk, as well as any damages.

Roundup Regulatory Manipulation Evidence

At the time, Judge Chhabria said that sidestepping the morality issues of Monsanto’s behavior warranted the unusual splitting of the trial so that it would not distract the jury. However, the court also suggested that if the plaintiffs brought evidence of Roundup regulatory manipulation and influencing scientific study outcomes that it would probably be admissible during the causation phase of the trial.

Consequently, Monsanto filed a pretrial motion to exclude specific evidence from the primary phase, saying information that the company had influenced scientists and regulators would automatically prejudice the company and that this could cause jurors to ignore the scientific evidence in the case.

However, Reuters reported that Judge Chhabria issued a decision during a hearing Monday, ruling that the court would allow plaintiffs to present this evidence during the causation phase of the trial. He sided with plaintiffs that Monsanto’s influence on the scientific and regulatory communities to get more favorable results was extremely relevant to causation.

However, the court is excluding two internal documents on lobbying issues from the first phase of Hardeman’s and the two subsequent bellwether trials.

Unless Monsanto begins negotiating Roundup settlements or making moves to otherwise resolve the litigation, the company will likely face a continually mounting number of individual trial dates in courts nationwide in the coming years as more people continue to develop devastating effects from exposure to the weed killer.

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