California Couples’ $87 Million Roundup Cancer Victory Upheld By Appeals Court

Legal News

A 2019 jury’s finding that extensive use of Roundup caused Alva and Alberta Pilliod to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma will stand for now after a California appeals court rejected Monsanto owner Bayer AG’s attempt to overturn the decision. 

The case of the Pilliods, a married couple in their 70s from Livermore, CA, was the third Roundup suit that has gone to trial. Initially awarded over $2 billion in damages, the Pilliods’ award was later reduced to $87 million by the trial judge. 

In their trial, the Pilliods testified that they applied Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide products on all three of their properties for over 30 years and developed cancer as a result. 

Bayer’s attempt to have the case overturned and to have the couple’s award reduced even further was rejected yesterday by the 1st Appellate District in the Court of Appeal for California, and is the latest in a series of appeals setbacks for the company that finalized its acquisition of Monsanto for $63 billion in June 2018, just one month before the first Roundup trial began. 

“We find that substantial evidence supports the jury’s verdicts,” the court stated, per reporting by U.S. Right To Know. “Monsanto’s conduct evidenced reckless disregard of the health and safety of the multitude of unsuspecting consumers it kept in the dark. This was not an isolated incident; Monsanto’s conduct involved repeated actions over a period of many years motivated by the desire for sales and profit.”

Monsanto’s defense strategy in the appeal included the preemption doctrine, which posits that the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) preempts state law. Because no cancer warning label is required for Roundup under FIFRA, Monsanto argued that federal law preempts California state law, and therefore, no warning label should be issued on the company’s glyphosate-based products. 

However, the court said Monsanto acted with a “willful and conscious disregard for the safety of others … [and] failed to conduct adequate studies on glyphosate and Roundup, thus impeding discouraging, or distorting scientific inquiry concerning glyphosate and Roundup.”

In all three Roundup trials that have concluded, plaintiffs have been awarded tens of millions of dollars. Dewayne “Lee” Johnson was initially awarded $289 million in August 2018; the former groundskeeper’s award has been twice reduced and now stands at $20.5 million. After the California Supreme Court refused to review Johnson’s case, Bayer indicated it would not petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear it. 

Ed Hardeman was the second plaintiff to successfully sue Monsanto for cancer claims over Roundup and the first to do so in a federal court. Hardeman initially was awarded $80 million roughly half a year after Johnson’s victory. Like Johnson, Hardeman saw his award reduced; in May, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Hardeman’s victory and kept his reduced damage award at $25 million. 

A fourth Roundup trial started late last month and is now in the testimony stage. The trial pitting plaintiff Donetta Stephens versus Monsanto is expected to last several weeks. Bayer recently announced that it was allocating $4.5 billion towards litigation expenses, and that it will remove its line of glyphosate-based products in retail stores by 2023. Over 125,000 people have filed Roundup cancer suits. Bayer has settled approximately 90% of those suits for $11 billion but its proposal to resolve any future lawsuits for an additional $2 billion has been twice rejected by a federal judge.

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