When Bayer AG—the German multinational pharmaceutical giant that is one of the largest in the world—purchased the agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation Monsanto in 2018, they inherited almost a billion dollars-worth of mass tort litigation multiplying against Monsanto’s most notable product, Roundup.
Roundup, inarguably the most recognizable name in herbicide, is an agrochemical weed-killing product containing the surfactant polyethoxylated tallow amine and the chemical compound glyphosate. These two ingredients, despite conflicting reports, have been successfully argued as toxic to humans, and the latter, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), is a “probable” carcinogen. Since Bayer’s purchase of Monsanto, thousands of cases have been brought claiming long-term, sustained exposure to Roundup has caused non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
An online article published on Law.com reported continuing progress in settling the thousands of Roundup lawsuits that have been brought against Bayer AG and Monsanto. The judge overseeing the multidistrict litigation, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria of the Northern District of California, retained a stay on litigation until November 2, giving lawyers until then to settle cases before being remanded to trial after the stay expires. As of November 10, Judge Chhabria did not extend the stay.
Chhabria has previously criticized Monsanto for failing to finalize settlements after agreeing in June 2020 to pay more than $10 billion over tens of thousands of claims—a deal that is among the largest settlements in the history of U.S. civil litigation. In an August 2020 hearing, numerous plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote confidential letters to Judge Chhabria accusing Bayer of reneging on the details of their agreement. In the hearing, the judge expressed worry that Monsanto may be “manipulating” the litigation process to their advantage, saying “My only concern is that I don’t want the litigation to be used as a pawn in settlement negotiations, either way. I don’t want them to manipulate, or take advantage, and use to their advantage a stay in the litigation, and I don’t want lifting of the stay to prompt settlement.”
Recent Developments in Roundup Litigation
Plaintiffs’ attorneys have requested that a bellwether trial that has not yet settled be set for “as soon as practicable” in light of the COVID-19 pandemic; Bayer has objected to a virtual trial and preferred to wait for a summary judgement ruling. This hearing was set for November 9, about which court-appointed mediator Kenneth Feinberg said “substantial progress” was made toward resolving the tens of thousands of claims against Roundup.
In June of 2020, Bayer projected that they would pay $10.9 billion to resolve Roundup litigation and $1.25 billion for future claims. According to Reuters, last week it increased the projected cost of future claims to $2 billion.