JURIST Guest Columnist Darian Carrow of ConsumerSafety.org discusses the recent litigation around the pesticide Roundup...
Glyphosate, a non-selective herbicide, is found in many weed killing products and sold every day around the world. Roundup, the most popular herbicide in the United States, contains glyphosate and is purchased by consumers to use on their residential properties, gardens, public parks, sports fields, as well as other outdoor areas.
Recently, Roundup has been looked at more closely as consumers are coming forward with cancer diagnoses they attribute to long-term Roundup use. Since the potential dangers associated with glyphosate were first announced in 2015, Roundup’s manufacturer has been embroiled in litigation with plaintiffs claiming they developed cancer from the use of the product.
While there have been reports of B-cell lymphoma, leukemia, and other blood-related cancers, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is the most reported cancer consumers are attributing to consistent Roundup use. In fact, all three of the major lawsuits that Bayer has faced as a result of Roundup have involved the development of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma by various consumers who have used the product for years.
Alva and Alberta Pilliod, the most recent winners in the courtroom battles against Roundup’s current manufacturer, Bayer, are a California couple who used the weed killer on their residence regularly without any form of protective gear. Both diagnosed with terminal non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, they were awarded the largest amount out of all three trials Bayer has faced on this at more than $2 billion in damages. Legal experts assume this will be reduced, but the awarded amount sent a message to both the defendant and plaintiffs awaiting their day in court.
According to the U.S. Right to Know report, Monsanto, the previous Roundup manufacturer now owned by Bayer, “engaged in conduct with malice, oppression or fraud committed by one or more officers, directors or managing agents of Monsanto,” resulting in the $2 billion loss. Bayer has announced its plans to appeal this verdict, along with all other losing decisions they face in court on this matter.
The predecessing case of Edwin Hardeman was also deemed a loss for Bayer when the jury awarded the California resident $80 million in damages in the very first federal case against Bayer for Roundup. Hardeman was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and blamed Roundup for his cancer development. After several days of deliberation, the jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff attributing Roundup to his cancer diagnosis after years of consistent use of the product to treat poison oak, overgrowth, and weeds on his residence.
Hardeman’s case, as well as that of the Pilliod couple, were both deemed “bellwether trials” by the presiding judge, Vincent Chhabria. Bellwether trials are test trials used as an example for lawyers with similar cases to decide whether or not they should proceed, and both presented interesting findings.
The Hardeman case took a deep dive into the science behind Roundup and its chemical makeup. The jury was presented with a few studies that not only compared the effects of Roundup on the cells of other living creatures but also how the specific chemical concoction affects cells.
The first study brought to the jury showed the effects of Roundup on sea urchin cells. According to the study, Roundup was able to disturb normal cell divisions in sea urchins. This led to the belief that the same thing could happen to the cell division as well as cell cycles of humans, which can cause cancer.
“The research around glyphosate and cell cycle disruption is concerning,” medical writer, Dr. Katy Moncivais, PhD, tells us. “Every human really has to hope that the carcinogenic effects observed in a lab would require high dose, long-term exposure in the real world.”
The next couple of studies that were discussed in Hardeman’s trial showed the negative effect of Roundup on human embryonic, placental, and umbilical cells. One of the studies states that the Roundup formulations killed all of the cells within 24 hours and caused multiple cell malfunctions, each individually capable of inducing cell death. It was also revealed through these studies that Roundup’s chemical makeup including glyphosate was more toxic than glyphosate alone.
As a result of these two cases, Judge Chhabria initiated a formal order of mediation. This brings a confidential, unbiased opinion into the legal proceedings to hopefully help the plaintiffs and defendant come to a settlement. In May 2019, Judge Chhabria appointed attorney Kenneth Feinberg into the position to meet with future plaintiffs and the defendant to help negotiate.
The first case brought against Bayer for its Roundup product was that of Dewayne Johnson. The California school groundskeeper used Roundup on a regular basis for his job and, on a few of these occasions, the product was accidentally spilled on him. Johnson was diagnosed with terminal non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and his case was presented early due to the severity of his illness.
The San Franciscan jury unanimously ruled that the manufacturer failed to warn consumers of the potentially harmful ingredients in their product, awarding Johnson $289 million in November 2018. After this win for the plaintiff, thousands of consumers began to file against Bayer, with lawsuit numbers climbing up past 13,000.
Shortly after this ruling, Johnson’s jury award was reduced to $78.5 million, because it was decided that the compensatory and punitive damages should match 1:1 at $39.25 million each. Johnson plans to appeal this reduction and Bayer plans to appeal this verdict completely.
Following this case, it was brought to the public’s attention that Monsanto had possibly once had their research on glyphosate “ghostwritten” by various scientists. When research came out that was not in favor of glyphosate, Monsanto spoke internally about publishing research of their own showing that there were no health risks of Roundup and paying outside respected scientists to put their names on it. The company also worked with officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to have a review on glyphosate by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the toxicological portion of the Department of Health and Human Services, suppressed.
Although the majority of cases have taken place in the United States, the legal happenings surrounding Roundup are starting to pick up around the globe. An Australian man has sought legal recourse after being diagnosed with leukemia and attributing it to his Roundup use. In Canada, a class-action lawsuit has been filed by a man with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after using the product since the 1990s.
The next case in the series of Roundup trials will take place in St. Louis, Missouri in late August as Sharlean Gordon tries to convince the jury that her 15 years of Roundup use attributed to her development of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The future of these trials and the pushback by Bayer is uncertain, but the thousands of filed cases tell us it’s far from over.
Darian Carrow is a staff writer at ConsumerSafety.org and has a background in editorial communications which she uses to serve the public in sharing the important consumer news of today. With experience in writing and research, Darian fulfills her role at ConsumerSafety.org by focusing her research on trending safety and legal news that impacts consumers. Darian strives to be a trusted source for the general public, journalists, and wellness enthusiasts looking for connections to legal sources as a result of these health discoveries.
Suggested citation: Darian Carrow, The Round Up Trials, JURIST – Professional Commentary, July 5, 2019, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/darian-carrow-the-roundup
This article was prepared for publication by Brianna Bell, a JURIST Staff Editor. Please direct any questions or comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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