A California jury recently issued the largest award yet in litigation over the weed killer Roundup. It awarded $55 million in compensatory damages to a couple who both developed cancer after using Roundup for decades on their property.
Then, in a move one juror said was meant to have a “punch in the gut effect,” the jury ordered Bayer AG, the company that now owns Roundup, to pay $2 billion in punitive damages. Punitive damages punish wrongdoing by civil defendants. Bayer AG acquired Roundup maker Monsanto last year for $63 billion. Reportedly because of the litigation surrounding Roundup, the market value of Bayer AG is now worth less than its peak before it acquired Monsanto.
This is the third consecutive jury that has found Bayer/Monsanto liable for cancers caused by Roundup, which contains the chemical herbicide glyphosate. The company is facing over 13,400 lawsuits in the U.S. over glyphosate allegedly causing cancer. Plaintiffs claim Monsanto knew for decades of glyphosate’s cancer risk but, rather than warning consumers, it attempted to cover up that risk.
Multiple studies have indicated that glyphosate causes certain cancers in humans. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, labeled glyphosate a human carcinogen. Nevertheless, the herbicide remains approved by the EPA and some other regulatory bodies abroad, and the EPA has concluded there is “no risks to public health” from ordinary uses of glyphosate.
Here, the Northern California couple said they had used Roundup on their property for 35 years. They also said they would never have done so had they been warned of glyphosate’s potential to cause cancer. They both developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma and blamed exposure to the chemical.
Not only did the jury find that Roundup caused the couple’s cancers, but it also found that Roundup was defectively designed, that Monsanto had failed to warn consumers of Roundup’s cancer risk, and that Monsanto had been negligent. The couple has called for Bayer/Monsanto to add a warning label to the product indicating that it could cause cancer.
A $2-billion punitive damage award should indeed have a “punch in the gut effect” at Bayer/Monsanto. It’s also twice what the plaintiffs asked for which, as we discussed in a previous post, was meant as a number that “changes things.” Let’s hope that $2 billion is enough to convince the company that consumers need greater protection from dangerous and defective products like Roundup.