Litigation Review: Roundup

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Roundup was developed as a herbicide by Monsanto in the early 1970s.  The herbicide glyphosate is contained in over 750 products from various manufacturers in the U.S.  In 1996, Monsanto introduced genetically engineered crops (Roundup Ready seeds) which could tolerate glyphosate, thus increasing its use in large scale farming.  Bayer acquired Monsanto, along with any liabilities associated with Roundup, in June 2018.

Litigation Overview

As of April 2019, over 11,200 people have sued in U.S. state and federal courts alleging Roundup has caused cancer.  To date two cases have gone to plaintiff verdicts, the first in August 2018 when a California jury awarded a school groundskeeper $289 million in damages for Monsanto’s failure to warn of the cancer risks posed by Roundup.  The judge later reduced the award to $80 million.  The second came in March 2019 when a federal jury found Roundup to be a factor in causing a California man’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma after he used the product to control weeds on his property for 26 years.  He was awarded $80.3 million.

On May 13, 2019 a jury awarded $2.055 billion ($2 billion in punitive damages and $55 million in compensatory damages) to a California couple in the Pilliod v. Monsanto case.  The jury found Bayer liable for the married couple’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma, who claimed it resulted from their use of Roundup on their property for 35 years.  The husband and wife, both in their 70’s, are currently in remission.  Plaintiff attorneys relied heavily on scientific studies of rodents and human populations that show glyphosate is carcinogenic.  The defense highlighted that the EPA continues to approve the product.  Further, the defense noted the couple’s health histories included prior cancer diagnoses and family history of cancer and autoimmune diseases.  Bayer will appeal the verdict.

Approximately 800 of these cases have been consolidated In re: Roundup Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 2741 in the United States District Court, Northern District of California.  On April 11, 2019, the judge ordered that these cases be organized to determine which cases should be dismissed, which should be remanded to state court and to transfer the remaining cases to the home districts for federal court trials.  He further ordered the parties to enter into confidential mediation.  A May 22, 2019 hearing is set to discuss the mediation efforts.  There is potential that the mediation could lead to a confidential settlement amount.

Regulation of Glyphosate

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s review in 2017 found the chemical unlikely to cause cancer in humans.  The European Chemicals Agency and European Food Safety Authority both approve glyphosate as well.  Despite these approvals, a French court recently banned a Roundup product, several U.S. municipalities have barred the product and Costco Wholesale pulled Roundup from its stores.  Plaintiff attorneys claim that company scientists influenced independent scientific papers and manipulated the findings, which they believe has impacted decisions by regulatory bodies.

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Statistics

Both cases which have gone to verdict have alleged that Roundup caused the plaintiff’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  According to the NIH National Cancer Institute, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is the seventh most common type of cancer in the U.S., with an estimated 74,200 new cases diagnosed, or 4.2% of all new cancer cases, in 2019.  It is most frequently diagnosed in people aged 65-74.

NHL is a disease in which cancer cells form in the lymph system and can be indolent or aggressive.  Risk factors for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma include:

  • Being older, male, or white.
  • Having one of the following medical conditions:
    • An inherited immune disorder
    • An autoimmune disease
    • HIV/AIDS
    • Human T-lymphotrophic virus type I or Epstein-Barr virus infection
    • Helicobacter pylori infection
  • Taking immunosuppressant drugs after an organ transplant.

The Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program (SEER) of the National Cancer Institute using statistical models for analysis, shows that rates for new non-Hodgkin lymphomas cases have been falling on average 0.9% each year over the last 10 years.  Death rates have been falling on average 2.2.% each year over 2007-2016.

About Excelas

The medical review in the Roundup litigation entails evaluation on the individual case level as well as statistical analyses of the plaintiff population.  Our medical analysts and health information specialists are experienced in managing the unique information needs in large scale litigation.  This medical information is available through Zaxas, Excelas’ proprietary cloud-based software, which provides the tools for counsel to view source documents and review medical case summaries.

Updated 5/14/19: This article was edited to update the Pilliod v. Monsanto verdict.

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