Scientists can't seem to agree on glyphosate. The popular weed-killer ingredient was deemed "probably carcinogenic" by the World Health Organization in 2015, but the EPA in 2017 said it was "not likely to be carcinogenic to humans." And then a new study suggests people exposed to large doses of the chemical have a heightened risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
But while scientists may not be able to say that glyphosate definitively causes cancer, juries have been happy too. An Alameda County, California jury became the third to rule against Roundup weed killer manufacturer Monsanto in a cancer lawsuit, this time to the tune of $2 billion in damages.
Damage and Damages
Normally, such a huge verdict would be reserved for a class action lawsuit covering many plaintiffs. But in this case, it was just one couple: Alva and Alberta Pilliod were awarded $1 billion each in punitive damages for claims they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup for more than 30 years to landscape their home and other properties. The jury also hit Monsanto with an additional $55 million in collective compensatory damages.
In March, San Francisco jurors in a federal lawsuit ruled that Roundup was a substantial factor in causing Edwin Hardeman's non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and awarded him $80 million. And in August of last year, another San Francisco jury awarded $289 million to a fourth plaintiff, but judge later reduced the payout to $78 million on appeal. Monsanto was acquired by Bayer last year, mere months before the first Roundup verdict.
"Bayer is disappointed with the jury's decision and will appeal the verdict in this case, which conflicts directly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's interim registration review decision released just last month, the consensus among leading health regulators worldwide that glyphosate-based products can be used safely and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic, and the 40 years of extensive scientific research on which their favorable conclusions are based," the company asserted.
As we noted above, studies are somewhat split on Roundup's safety. Two of the expert witnesses who testified in Hardeman's case cited the latest study linking glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. According to the study's author, Rachel Shaffer, people who are highly exposed to glyphosate are 41 percent more likely to contract NHL than the overall population. Determining that the chemical is to blame for someone's cancer is often only the first phase of a trial -- juries must also decide how liable the manufacturer will be. Bayer continues to claim "glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer." Lawyers for many plaintiffs, on the other hand, claim they have evidence that Monsanto attempted to manipulate public opinion and science to minimize Roundup's health risks.
These are far from the only lawsuit claiming Roundup causes cancer. Some 11,000 Roundup suits are pending in American courtrooms, around 760 of which are in front of the same judge as Hardeman's. His is considered a "bellwether" trial which could impact how those other cases proceed, although Bayer contends the jury finding "has no impact on future cases and trials because each one has its own factual and legal circumstances."
Product liability cases can be complex, especially those that attempt to link products to cancer diagnoses. If you think a particular product is responsible for your cancer, talk to an experienced personal injury attorney about your legal options.