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Daily News Blog

09
Feb

Proposed Bayer/Monsanto Settlement for Roundup Victims Offers Payments and Challenges

(Beyond Pesticides, February 9, 2021) Multinational agrichemical corporation Bayer/Monsanto released a proposal last week to provide up to $200,000 per claimant in compensation to future victims of its Roundup weed killer, according to Reuters. The proposed settlement, agreed to with lawyers representing victims, continues Bayer/Monsanto’s attempts to limit the spiraling cost Roundup lawsuits, which have awarded individual victims millions of dollars in damages. The company appears to consider the proposal a good investment, as it has announced no plans to stop sale and production of its carcinogenic weed killer. However, under the current proposal, plaintiffs would not be forced to go through a compensation fund, and could seek additional punitive damages through a separate suit. As the attorney for Roundup victims, Elizabeth Casbraser, of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, told the Wall Street Journal, “It’s really about options, and it’s really about choice. I think it’s a great option that offers predictability and transparency for people who don’t want to wait, who want to be compensated.”

To stop the surge of cancer victims – comprising roughly 125,000 lawsuits – from further damaging the company financially, Bayer/Monsanto last year proposed a $10.9 billion settlement with current litigants. Unresolved future claims were part of this proposal. The company had asked the judge to allow for a panel of experts to review cancer claims and determine whether a causal connection exists. But the judge rejected this idea. Bayer/Monsanto has been in talks with plaintiff lawyers since.

Bayer/Monsanto has fought and lost several rounds of legal battles up until this point. Its first major loss centered around California school groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, who won an initial $289 million jury verdict against Monsanto in 2018 for his development of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) after exposure to Roundup. The first $39 million was awarded for compensation, while $250 million in punitive damages came after a finding that Monsanto acted with “malice or oppression” by suppressing the link between its product and cancer. That amount was later amended by a judge to $78 million. The second case, again in California, found unanimously in favor of the plaintiff, Edwin Hardeman. Mr. Hardeman told the jury he had used Roundup since the 1980s to spray poison oak and weeds around his property, resulting in his NHL diagnosis in 2014. He was awarded $5.27 million, while his punitive damages were ultimately reduced from $75 to $20 million. The third major glyphosate trial concerned the Pilliods, a California couple that had used Roundup for more than 30 years to kill weeds on properties they owned. The couple was originally awarded a staggering $2.055 billion by the jury in 2019, which was ultimately reduced to $87 million.

While the company has been able to cut back large jury awards to victims, it has been ineffective at stopping the claims from winning on the merits. This is because, despite claims from captured regulatory agencies like EPA, there is a strong body of evidence linking glyphosate and its formulated products to cancer. And significant evidence that the company worked to keep that information under wraps. Over the last four years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture have worked to provide cover for Bayer/Monsanto by reregistering Roundup and other glyphosate-based products, intervening in court cases, and coordinating with the company to stop glyphosate bans in other countries.

The current proposal is an outgrowth of these discussions. If accepted, the company would be liable for between $5,000 to $200,000 for each future NHL victim who makes a claim against the company, with awards depending on health conditions, age, prior Roundup use, and other considerations. Compensation would be taken from a $1.33 billion sum of money. Another $750 million would be used to fund NHL cancer monitoring programs, pay lawyer fees (who will provide free legal assistance to future victims), and establish an advisory panel, “whose findings would not be preclusive but can be used as evidence in potential future litigation involving class members,” according to a Bayer press release. Many health advocates note that the cost of NHL cancer treatment can easily be tens of thousands of dollars for every year of treatment, notwithstanding other likely complications.  

Most egregious to the company’s proposal is that it still plans to continue selling Roundup. According to reports, Bayer/Monsanto will ask EPA for permission to place a link to a website providing information on the science behind the safety of glyphosate. If the proposed website is anything like any other piece of information released by Bayer/Monsanto, it is highly unlikely to provide the facts consumers need to make informed choices about their health. Advocates note that Bayer has a long history of spinning the science on pesticide toxicity in a way that favors its bottom line at the expense of public health and the environment.

Based on  history, it is unfathomable that any consumer would take Bayer/Monsanto’s word regarding the safety of its products. The actions of the company are exactly the sort one would expect from a faceless, multi-national corporation focused solely on profits and executive compensation. To fight back against this, concerned US residents must demand new laws, and greater scrutiny from government regulators. While the agrichemical industry has strong footholds in U.S. agencies, public pressure can change the way business is done.

There are many routes advocates can take. Join with Beyond Pesticides in actions pressuring Congress and the new Biden administration to embrace greater oversight on toxic pesticides, and safer ways of managing pests. Take further action at the local level to ban not just glyphosate, but all toxic pesticides that could be used in your community. Purchase organic food whenever possible to decrease demand for toxic pesticides. And read up on the latest science on the hazards of pesticides through Beyond Pesticides Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Reuters, Wall Street Journal

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