Historic Monsanto Verdict’s Watershed Impact on Pending Product Liability Claims

This month’s $289 million jury award in a product- liability lawsuit against Monsanto is a historic and important victory for consumers that will likely have a watershed impact on billions of similar claims pending across the nation.

In this case, plaintiff was awarded $39 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages after developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As CBS News reported, a California jury found the former school groundskeeper’s repeated use of Monsanto’s popular RoundUp product, a glyphosate-based weedkiller, was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s rare cancer.

It was the first of thousands of similar lawsuits Monsanto faces across the country. Plaintiff took a job as pest control manager for a Bay-area school district in 2012, where he sprayed the weedkiller 20 to 30 times per year. Jurors deliberated for three days following the eight-week trial.

Products liablity

Monsanto promised an appeal of the verdict and denies its products cause cancer, citing “overwhelming scientific evidence” of glyphosate use around the world. In defending the product liability lawsuit, Monsanto cited more than 800 scientific studies, as well as the conclusions of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Monsanto was recently acquired by Bayer AG, a German conglomerate, in a $62.5 billion transaction.

The number of civil lawsuits alleging Roundup and other Glyphosate-based weedkillers cause cancer has now grown to more than 5,000 cases, according to The New York Times. The Superior Court of California jury in San Francisco found Monsanto failed to warn consumers of the cancer risks of its weedkillers, including Roundup and Ranger Pro.

DEWAYNE JOHNSON V. MONSANTO CO.

The lawsuit was filed in 2016 but fast tracked because doctors don’t believe it’s likely plaintiff will live past 2020. His lawyer said jurors were swayed by internal company documents that show Monsanto had known for decades about cancer risks associated with its glyphosate weedkillers, specifically Roundup.

  • Multi District Litigation: More than 475 lawsuits are pending against Monsanto Co. in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
  • More than 4,000 other Monsanto lawsuits are pending in state courts.

While the Environmental Protection Agency concluded in 2017 glyphosate was not likely carcinogenic to humans, the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” in 2015. Over Monsanto objects, many key internal records and communications were left unsealed by the judge, which allowed them to become part of the public record and will undoubtedly be of great use to plaintiff injury attorneys in thousands of other pending cases.

Reactions to the verdict have been swift worldwide. Shortly before the verdict, a federal judge in Brazil ruled new products containing glyphosate could not be registered in the country and existing registrations would be suspended. Germany, home of Monsanto’s new parent Bayer AG, called for use of glyphosate-based herbicides to be phased out within three years. Leaders in Italy and France also spoke out against future use of glyphosate.

Glyphosate is currently the most widely used weedkiller in the world. Use has increased more than 15 fold since the 1990s and now stands at nearly 2 billion pounds annually. Use in the United States has increased from 40 million pounds to almost 300 million pounds, according to the Sierra Club. 

Roundup’s glyphosate-tolerant cropping system, has ushered in drastic changes to the U.S. farming system in the last 30 years, the consequences of which may only now be beginning to be understood. Monsanto is a giant global corporation with a long history of defending product liability lawsuits. It began manufacture of DDT during World War II, an insecticide critical to fighting malaria that would later be banned in the U.S. in the 1970s amid increasing evidence of its toxicity. During the Vietnam War, it produced Agent Orange for the U.S. military, and ultimately settled out of court with U.S. veterans groups in the 1980s.

Roundup Lawsuits Against Monsanto in Massachusetts

Roundup injury lawyers in Massachusetts continue to counsel victims inquiring about whether their cancer is caused by use of pesticides and weedkillers. Early legal help and your choice of a Boston law firm with extensive personal injury, product liability and wrongful death litigation experience, will be vital to making such claims.

There are three principal theories of product liability in Massachusetts:

  • Breach of applied warranty of merchantability
  • Negligence
  • Chapter 93A

Warranty of merchantability is a consumer protection attached to goods sold. It means a retail product will perform as expected when used properly and as intended. Proving breach of warrant requires proving defendant was a legally defined merchant who sold a defective product that caused plaintiff foreseeable compensable injury. Relevant factors for proving defective product under Massachusetts law include gravity and likelihood of danger, feasibility and financial viability of producing safe alternatives, and analysis of adverse consequences of an alternative design to both product and consumer.

A product manufacturer or seller can also be held liable for harm as a result of negligent acts or omissions. Like warranty claims, negligence claims hinge on a product’s design and manufacture. Primary defense in these cases is one of comparative negligence, which asserts a victim was partly or wholly responsible for his own injury or illness (failure to wear proper safety gear, follow manufacturer instructions and directions, etc.)

A product liability claim may also be filed under Massachusetts General Laws chapter 93A, § 2(c), which makes it an unfair or deceptive act to fail to fulfill any promise or obligation rising under a warranty. This law may allow for bad faith claims against manufacturers or sellers who fail to make a reasonable settlement offer, which can result in double or treble damages.

Like punitive damages, bad faith claims are meant to punish defendants, typically large corporations and insurance companies, from acting in bad faith or with reckless disregard for public health and safety. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 229 Section 2 governs punitive damages, which are available in certain cases where a defendant is found to have caused the death of a person through willful, wanton or reckless conduct.

The truth is these are among the most complex legal cases a Massachusetts injury law firm can handle. Plaintiff trial attorneys will be going up against a corporation that has been defending itself (often successfully) against massive product liability lawsuits involving some of the most dangerous consumer products in American history over the last century.

If you are the victim of Massachusetts product liability, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.

 

More Blog Entries
Monsanto Ordered to Pay $289 Million in Roundup Cancer Trial, Aug. 10, 2018, The New York Times