Economy

Monsanto to pay $2 billion in weed killer cancer case

Monsanto to pay $2 billion in weed killer cancer case

A jury on Monday ordered agribusiness giant Monsanto Co.to pay a combined $2.055 billion to a couple claiming that the company's popular weed killer Roundup Ready caused their cancers.

Bayer AG acquired Roundup maker Monsanto a year ago.

Alva and Alberta Pilliod, who are in their 70s, claimed they used Roundup for more than 30 years to landscape their home and other properties, without protective gear. In 2011, Alva was diagnosed with systemic National Hockey League in his bones, which spread to his pelvis and spine, and Alberta was diagnosed with National Hockey League brain cancer in 2015.

In March, a San Francisco jury awarded a man $80 million who blamed his cancer on his extensive use of Roundup.

Attorneys for the Pilliods say 13,000 other plaintiffs have already filed cases against Monsanto.

The German chemicals giant faces more than 13,400 USA lawsuits over the herbicide's alleged cancer risk, according to Reuters.

The verdict will be vulnerable to a legal challenge by Bayer because courts have generally held that punitive damages shouldn't be more than 10 times higher than compensatory damages.

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In addition to the Hardeman and Pilliod cases, a jury in San Francisco past year initially awarded a man, Dewayne Johnson, $289 million in a case related to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and glyphosate-based products, but the judge later slashed the punitive damages levied against Bayer/Monsanto in that case to $39 million, down from $250 million (and left another $39 million in compensatory damages intact).

Bayer's spokesman called the latest decision "excessive and unjustifiable", saying that the company would appeal the verdict. The company is appealing the two previous verdicts in Roundup cases, and it said it would appeal this verdict as well. A judge later reduced the award by $200 million.

Levine said those cases are now making their way through the appellate process and the outcome could have a big impact on what Monsanto decides to do about the other pending litigation. They were also awarded $55 million in compensatory damages.

Bayer issued a statement Monday in response to the verdict.

A 2017 Reuters investigation found that the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer had dismissed and edited out "non-carcinogenic" findings that were at odds with its final conclusion that the chemical probably causes cancer. The European Chemicals Agency and other regulators around the globe have also found glyphosate not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. The court didn't propose a ratio it felt correct, but said punitive damages should nearly never exceed nine times actual damages, it said.

Bayer's management was already in hot water over the wisdom of the Monsanto takeover, with shareholders having effectively told CEO Werner Baumann in a no-confidence vote last month that his job is in jeopardy.

On Friday, the French newspaper Le Monde broke the news that the public relations agency FleishmanHillard had compiled a list of over 200 journalists, politicians and scientists showing their positions on Monsanto, in an effort to help Bayer launch a media counter-offensive.