For the second time in a year, a jury has decided that the popular glyphosate weed killer Roundup caused a man’s cancer. The victory could inspire a flood of similar suits in addition to the thousands that Roundup manufacturer Monsanto is already facing, and the firm’s new owner, Bayer, could end up going bankrupt over it.
On Wednesday, the share price of Bayer dropped more than 13 percent following the unanimous decision. Investors were apparently spooked when a jury in a San Francisco federal court concluded that Roundup was a “substantial factor” in the development of Edwin Hardeman’s cancer.
According to his attorneys, the 70-year-old developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma as a result of using Roundup regularly over the course of 26 years to address weeds, overgrowth and poison oak on his property.
The next phase is now underway and will determine if Bayer is liable for the amateur gardener’s illness, and if so, how much money they will have to pay out. Hardeman’s attorneys will argue that Monsanto either knew or should have known that the product can cause cancer, and they will ask the jury to have the firm pay for his medical bills as well as damages.
A lawyer for Hardeman, Jennifer Moore, said: “We feel confident based on the evidence that a jury, when presented with all of the evidence, will see that Monsanto has committed 40 years of corporate malfeasance.”
Internal emails between federal regulators and Monsanto that have been publicly released as part of litigation suggest the firm authored its own research on glyphosate and then credited it to academics. It also showed how a senior EPA official tried to suppress a federal glyphosate study planned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Hardeman’s lawyers said that Monsanto took advantage of “cozy” relationships with regulators like the EPA, who has not required the weed killer to bear a cancer risk warning.
In August, jurors in a California state court trial awarded a school groundskeeper $289 million after he developed terminal non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Although the award was later reduced, the company’s culpability stands; the judge ruled that Monsanto intentionally withheld information about the dangers of its weed killers Ranger Pro and Roundup and failed to inform customers that it could cause cancer. (Related: Glyphosate is the next Big Tobacco … Thousands of lawsuits could bankrupt Monsanto / Bayer.)
Monsanto and Bayer are now facing more than 9,000 lawsuits of a similar nature across the country, and that number could well climb as more people are diagnosed with illnesses related to exposure to the chemical, which has been labeled by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer as being “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Some countries have already banned the use of the product, while others plan to phase it out.
Given the controversy surrounding the potentially carcinogenic product, you might wonder why Bayer was so eager to acquire Monsanto, paying $63 billion for the company last year. In addition to its desire to control their GM crop seeds, Bayer was very interested in Monsanto’s Climate Corp data analytics, which it believes is the future of farming.
Analysts believe the total cost of settling with plaintiffs in these cases could easily reach as high as $10 billion. The stock’s drop on Wednesday marked its biggest intraday loss in 16 years and cut $9.1 billion from its valuation. In addition, if its stock continues to fall, Bayer could become a target for activists or even a takeover. One activist investor, Elliott, already holds a small stake in Bayer.
It’s somewhat encouraging to see the companies responsible for hurting people in their pursuit of profits finally being held accountable in court and feeling a financial sting, but it won’t do much to get back the lives of the thousands of people who are now facing cancer simply because they used a glyphosate product they had been assured was safe.
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