Jury orders Bayer to pay $2 billion in third Roundup trial

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A California jury on Monday awarded more than $2 billion to a couple who claimed Bayer AG's glyphosate-based Roundup weed killer caused their cancer, in the largest USA jury verdict to date against the company in litigation over the chemical.

The jury agreed, awarding the couple $1 billion each in punitive damages for a total of $2 billion.

The couple's case is the third to result in a verdict against Monsanto and is the largest judgment thus far against the agribusiness company, now owned by Bayer AG of Germany.

Bayer said Monday that it would appeal the verdict.

The cases have uncovered internal Monsanto documents that plaintiffs' lawyers say reveal the ways in which the company has "bullied" scientists over the years and helped "ghostwrite" research defending the safety of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup.

"The consensus among leading health regulators worldwide is that glyphosate-based products can be used safely and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic", Bayer said.

In the first two cases, a San Francisco Superior Court jury previous year awarded former school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson of Vallejo $289 million, later reduced by the trial judge to $78 million.

A federal jury in San Francisco ordered the weed killer maker in March to pay a Sonoma County man $80 million.

The jury's verdict is the third such courtroom loss for Monsanto in California since August, but a San Francisco law professor said it's likely a trial judge or appellate court will significantly reduce the punitive damage award.

If plaintiffs continue to win cases decided by juries in Missouri, the momentum in their favor "may push Bayer to begin to negotiate", she said. The jury found Roundup had been defectively designed, that the company failed to warn of the herbicide's cancer risk and that the company acted negligently.

The three California trials were the first of an estimated 13,000 lawsuits pending against Monsanto across the country to go to trial.

In their suit, they accused Monsanto of "fraudulently representing that Roundup is safe despite scientific evidence linking exposure to National Hockey League". Both of them are now in remission, but their trial had been expedited due to the risk of a relapse and potentially short life expectancy. That award was later reduced to $78 million and is on appeal. The company also said it would appeal that decision. Bayer denies those allegations. The company argued that the ruling runs against what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said most recently about the chemical.

Bayer Chief Executive Officer Werner Baumann faces increased shareholder pressure over the litigation it inherited from Monsanto as investors have been closely watching developments in the costly Roundup lawsuits. Additionally, EPA's 2017 post-IARC cancer risk assessment examined more than 100 studies the agency considered relevant and concluded that glyphosate is "not likely to be carcinogenic to humans", its most favorable rating, while the agency's April 2019 interim registration review decision on glyphosate also reaffirmed that "there are no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label and that glyphosate is not a carcinogen".

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