Roundup Judge Orders Bayer to Mediation
US district judge Vince Chhabria, who handled the first federal court lawsuit charging that Monsanto’s Roundup caused a California man’s cancer, has canceled the next of the 11,200 pending lawsuits over the herbicide and ordered Monsanto’s new owner Bayer and the plaintiffs to participate in confidential mediation.
Chhabria said that in lieu of the May 20 trial resources would be better spent dividing the pending cases into categories, thereby determining which should be dismissed, which should be sent to state courts and which should be heard by a federal court.
If the parties do not propose a mediator, the judge said the court will appoint one. He set a May 22 hearing to discuss mediation efforts and possibly schedule a new date for the canceled trial.
Up to now, Bayer AG has insisted it has no intention of settling thousands of lawsuits out of court; however, a spokesman for the German group told US media it would comply with the mediation order “in good faith.”
At the same time, Bayer said it would remain focused on defending the safety of glyphosate-based herbicides in court, noting that litigation is still in the early stages, with only two verdicts and no cases that have run their course through appeal.
To date, only two cases have been heard, both in California, and Bayer has lost both. In the first trial, the jury initially awarded the plaintiff, terminally ill school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson, $289 million but a judge later reduced the payout to $78 million.
In the two-phase federal trial that followed under Chhabria, the jury first determined that Roundup was a major factor in the non-Hodgkin lymphoma of plaintiff Edwin Hardeman and in the second phase awarded the California hobby gardener $80 million.
Bayer is appealing the judgments.
Some observers said they thought private mediation could allow Bayer to resolve the litigation without the negative headlines the trials have produced, which have led its share price to slide.
A lawyer representing plaintiffs in the cases before Chhabria told the news agency Bloomberg that it would be “prudent and responsible” for Bayer to settle the litigation, mentioning especially the group’s responsibility to its shareholders.
In late March, Bayer and US healthcare giant Johnson and Johnson agreed to share the cost of settling claims by patients against the top-selling anticoagulant drug Xarelto out of court. J&J markets the Bayer-developed drug in the US.
The two drugmakers have won all of the Xarelto cases yet heard but more than 25,000 others were said to be still pending at the end of March. Bayer and J&J said they wanted to settle in order to avoid the distraction and significant cost of continued litigation. J&J is still defending an estimated 14,000 lawsuits charging that its talc-based baby powder caused the plaintiffs’ cancer.