Bayer could be on the hook for $2 billion award in latest Roundup cancer trial

Another California jury finds that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weedkiller Roundup, caused cancer in two people who used it for decades.

An Oakland, California jury on Monday awarded over $2 billion in damages to a couple who were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after spraying Roundup, America’s most popular weedkiller, on their properties for decades. As The San Francisco Chronicle reports, this is the third such ruling against Monsanto, manufacturer of the glyphosate-based herbicide, and the company now owned by German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG.

Bayer purchased Monsanto in 2018 for $63 billion.

After less than two days of deliberation, the Alameda County Superior Court jury voted 11-1 to find Monsanto responsible for the cancers of Alva Pilliod, age 76, and his wife Alberta, age 74. Each were awarded $1 billion in punitive damages, and another $55 million in compensatory damages.

The $2 billion-plus in damages is the third and largest verdict against the company, which is facing 13,400 lawsuits.

The couple had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of blood cancer that rapidly attacks the immune system, in 2011 and 2015, respectively. They used Roundup to kill weeds on the grounds of three properties they owned in the Bay Area, applying it once a week for nine months, every year. Their lawyer estimated that the couple sprayed 1,500 gallons of the herbicide over three decades, the Chronicle said.

Alberta, a former nun, school teacher and principal, said she and her husband “wouldn’t have used” Roundup if it had come with a warning label. “From their ads, we felt that Roundup was incredibly safe to use,” she told the press after the verdict. “It changed our lives forever. We couldn’t do things we used to be able to do, and we really resent them for that.”

The $2 billion-plus in damages is the third and largest verdict against the company, which is facing 13,400 lawsuits brought by farmers, home gardeners, landscapers, and their families. Many of the suits allege that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, caused them to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers.

Chris Loder, a spokesman for the company, told The New Food Economy in an email that Bayer believes that “the punitive verdict is excessive and unjustifiable,” and it plans to appeal. “This litigation will take some time before it concludes,” the company said in a press statement.

As we reported last August, a California Superior Court found Monsanto liable for $289 million in damages, after ruling that it was responsible for former school groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson’s terminal cancer. The penalty was later reduced to $78.5 million by a judge, and is currently being appealed, the Chronicle reports. Johnson, who sprayed an herbicide called Ranger Pro on school grounds from 2012 to 2016, may not live long enough to see a payout.

Bayer has said that its glyphosate-based weedkillers were not responsible for causing cancer in users, and EPA, which regulates herbicides, agrees.

The particular fine in Johnson’s case was so large in part because the jury had decided that Monsanto knew about its weedkiller’s potential health risks, and had deliberately failed to warn users about those risks.

In March, we reported that another jury—this time in San Francisco’s federal court—found that exposure to Roundup had caused non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in Edwin Hardeman, a 70-year-old Santa Rosa man who’d used it for decades. In that case, the jury held Bayer subsidiary Monsanto liable for the plaintiff’s cancer diagnosis. Monsanto was on the line for $80 million in damages.

Bayer has told us in the past that its glyphosate-based weedkillers were not responsible for causing cancer in users, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates herbicides, agrees. But that hasn’t stopped juries from ruling that the company has deliberately failed to warn consumers about potential risks. The Guardian reported last year that thousands of cancer cases have uncovered internal documents showing how Monsanto attacked negative research, and helped ghostwrite studies that defended the safety of glyphosate. Bayer has recently conceded that Monsanto had been keeping files on journalists and lawmakers, in an attempt to influence press coverage and regulation of the weedkiller.

This isn’t the last word. The Wall Street Journal reports that Bayer is reevaluating its legal strategy ahead of the next scheduled trial, which will be the first such case to be held outside of California, in St. Louis—Monsanto’s former headquarters, and now home to Bayer Crop Science. According to a company statement, that legal strategy will include a “greater focus on post-trial motions” and appellate review.

Sam Bloch is a contributing writer for The Counter, where he covers business, environment and culture. He has also written for The New York Times, L.A. Weekly, Places Journal, Art in America and other publications, and is currently working on his first book, a work of narrative nonfiction about shade, for Random House.