$10B Roundup Settlement Covers Current and Future Claims

Bayer has agreed to settle the majority of lawsuits linking the popular herbicide Roundup to cancer.

Roundup has been the focus of around 125,000 lawsuits blaming the popular glyphosate-based herbicide (weed killer) for causing cancer—most notably non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). Recently, Bayer (which acquired these legal liabilities when it purchased glyphosate manufacturer Monsanto in 2018) announced an agreement to settle the vast majority of these cases for more than $10 billion. But the presiding judge has expressed some concerns over how the agreement, including how it might apply to future Roundup cases, and the deal isn't done quite yet.

Background: Three Completed Roundup Cases

Of the tens of thousands of Roundup (glyphosate) cases currently in litigation, only three have reached resolution after trial, and all resulted in massive verdicts in favor of the plaintiff:

  • a California state court jury awarded Dewayne Johnson $289 million
  • a federal trial court awarded Edwin Hardeman $80 million, and
  • a California state jury awarded more than $2 billion to Alva and Alberta Pilliod.

Learn more about the history and latest developments related to Roundup lawsuits.

Why Bayer and the Plaintiffs Agreed to Settle

This massive settlement came to be for two major reasons. First, the three plaintiffs mentioned above had early success in their toxic torts personal injury lawsuits over the safety of Roundup. While this didn't guarantee all future plaintiffs would win (let alone obtain such large verdicts), Bayer knew it was in for many, many years of litigation that would almost certainly result in at least some big plaintiffs' verdicts.

Second, the coronavirus pandemic has drastically slowed the rate at which this litigation can proceed. Most of the lawsuits against Monsanto and Bayer were potentially going to take years to get to trial and reach a verdict. The coronavirus extended this already lengthy timeline, with at least some plaintiffs already very sick from Roundup-related health problems like non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The Terms of the $10 Billion Roundup Settlement

The settlement applies to roughly 95,000 cases, including 95% of the cases already set for trial. Between $8.8 billion and $9.6 billion of the settlement goes to cover these cases. There is also an amount set aside for unresolved claims.

The Johnson, Hardeman, and Pilliod cases that are currently on appeal are not subject to this settlement agreement.

$1.25 billion will cover future plaintiffs that have yet to bring suit against Bayer. This includes a pending class-action lawsuit and the creation of the independent Class Science Panel.

The goal of the Class Science Panel is to decide if glyphosate causes NHL and if so, what levels of exposure are necessary to cause NHL. What's unique about this panel is that its findings will bind future Roundup class action litigants.

Specifically, if the panel finds that Roundup causes NHL, Bayer must concede this legal argument in future litigation. If the panel finds that Roundup does not cause NHL, then the class-action plaintiffs must accept this conclusion. The settlement also bars future class-action plaintiffs from trying to obtain punitive damages.

Court Approval of Settlement and What Comes Next

The $1.25 billion allocated for future plaintiffs is still subject to approval by U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria who, in a July 2020 court filing, expressed some skepticism over use of the Class Science Panel to decide issues that are typically resolved via the court process. Chhabria noted: "It's questionable whether it would be constitutional (or otherwise lawful) to delegate the function of deciding the general causation question (that is, whether and at what dose Roundup is capable of causing cancer) from judges and juries to a panel of scientists." Chhabria went on to question how the deal would affect Roundup users "who either have cancer but have not yet sued Monsanto or have not yet developed cancer."

See the U.S. District Court - Northern District of California's special web page on In re: Roundup Products Liability Litigation (MDL No. 2741)

There are also two other unknowns.

First, there are the still pending Johnson, Hardeman, and Pilliod appeals. Both sides are making legal arguments that, if accepted by the court, will have a major effect on future Roundup litigation.

Second, the Class Science Panel will likely need several years to complete its research in determining if glyphosate causes NHL. Until then, the class-action lawsuit cannot proceed.

Practically speaking, the panel will decide how all future Roundup claims against Bayer turn out. If the panel finds a causal connection between glyphosate and NHL, future plaintiffs will effectively win their lawsuits. But if the panel finds no causal connection, this $10 billion settlement could potentially be the extent of Bayer's legal liability for Roundup (pending court approval, of course).

If you're thinking about taking your own legal action over health problems related to use of Roundup (glyphosate), your best first step is to discuss your situation with an attorney. Learn more about finding the right lawyer for you and your Roundup case.

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