(April 1, 2019) Last week at the end of a monthlong, two-part trial, agrochemical giant Monsanto was ordered to pay more than $80 million in damages to a California man for failing to warn its weedkiller, Roundup, could cause cancer.
Plaintiff Ed Hardeman was awarded $200,967 in economic damages, $5 million in future and past noneconomic damages, and $75 million in punitive damages. The five female and one male jury found Monsanto liable for a failure to warn claim, a negligence claim, and a design defect claim.
After decades of using approximately 6,000 lbs. of Roundup on his 56-acre property in Santa Rosa, Calif., Hardeman was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015. He has since suffered emotionally and physically, as one would suspect in any cancer diagnosis.
This was the first federal bellwether case that alleged Roundup caused Hardeman’s cancer diagnosis. At its origination, Monsanto pushed to split the trial into two phases. The first phase asked the jury to evaluate whether or not Roundup caused Hardeman’s NHL diagnosis. The second phase determined whether Monsanto was liable and what damages, if any, should be awarded.
This strategy proved to backfire against Monsanto. Much of the evidence that showed the company was aware of studies linking Roundup to cancer was excluded from the first phase. However, in the second phase that evidence was presented to the jury, which may have played a significant role in the outcome. It only took one day for the jury to decide the amount of damages that should be awarded to Hardeman.
The ruling dealt a significant blow to Monsanto, which is facing an uphill battle of mounting Roundup lawsuits. Just last year, a state jury ordered Monsanto to pay over $200 million in damages to a school groundskeeper who had used the product for over five years. It was later reduced to $78 million.
This recent Roundup lawsuit is not the last. There are currently close to 700 similar Roundup product liability lawsuits consolidated before Judge Chhabria in California’s Northern District.
Pilliod v. Monsanto was the next case to go to trial on similar allegations and began on March 28 in an Oakland state court. Both Alberta and Alva Pilliod used Roundup for nearly 35 years on their four properties to kill weeds. They stopped using it in 2017 after Alva saw a commercial that said Roundup could cause cancer.
At the time they stopped using Roundup, both Pilliod’s had already developed aggressive diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) within four years of one another. They have both undergone multiple bouts of chemotheraphy to treat NHL, which only makes up 4% of cancers worldwide.
Both federal and state bellwether Roundup lawsuits have drawn considerable attention to the serious health risks associated with pesticides in the United States. Paraquat, another popular weedkiller and an alternative to Roundup, has been linked to causing Parkinson’s disease. Farmers and agricultural workers who were exposed to the herbicide and since developed Parkinson’s disease filed a lawsuit in St. Clair County, Ill. in 2017.
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