SAN FRANCISCO - Closing arguments of the opening phase of the bellwether Monsanto Roundup trial were made by both sides on Tuesday after a road map was laid out to the jury by U.S. Judge Vince Chhabria of the Northern District of California.
The question at hand is whether Roundup, or rather the chemical glyphosate, was a substantial factor in causing Edwin Hardeman’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma by a preponderance of the evidence given over the course of the science-based opening phase of the trial.
Hardeman’s case is the second high profile battle between defendant Monsanto, acquired by Bayer in June, and similar accusations that resulted in a $78 million win for terminally ill groundskeeper Dewayne Lee Johnson last year.
Hardeman’s attorney, Aimee Wagstaff, addressed the jury with a number of slides, breaking down the three pillars of cancer science: causation, animal data and epidemiological data. She told the jury that this case could come down to the “weight of a feather,” only needing a 50.01 preponderance weighted ruling.
“This isn’t like those shows on TV where you have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt,” explained Wagstaff.
She argued that her client sprayed over 6,000 gallons of Roundup for more than 26 years around his 56-acre Northern California property. “The dose makes the poison,” she stated. “The more you use, the higher the risk.”
Wagstaff summarized the experts that were cross-examined leading up to her arguments, arguing that the defendant wants jurors to ignore certain scientific data.
“It’s improper to ignore certain data,” Wagstaff asserted.
“[You] do not have to be convinced beyond reasonable doubt, consider all of the puzzle pieces,” closed Wagstaff.
Bayer, which acquired Monsanto for $63 billion in 2018, continues to argue that the glyphosate-based herbicides have been commonly used for decades and are not only safe for use, but also scientifically backed to prove just that.
Defense attorney Brian Stekloff shunned Wagstaff’s “weight of a feather” analogy. “We didn’t start at 50-50, we started at zero,” he told the jurors.
Stekloff asked the jury, “Did Mr. Hardeman prove by a preponderance of evidence that his exposure to Roundup was a substantial factor in causing his NHL?”
He continued, claiming that Hardeman’s cancer had no special marker, no special testing and there was simply nothing unique about his illness.
“There is no way to find what caused his NHL," Stekloff said.
The defense also questioned the role that Hardeman’s Hepatitis B, C and liver cirrhosis may have had over the course of 39 years, but also said that this case wasn’t about “Roundup versus Hepatitis C.”
The jury was reduced to just five women and one man after others had to quit. They must reach a unanimous verdict for Hardeman to win. Judge Chhabria stressed that they must decide medical causation solely on the information that was presented to them in trial without any predisposed feelings or emotions.
If the jury finds Roundup liable for causing Hardeman’s cancer, the trial will proceed into a second stage where the plaintiff’s lawyers can present evidence showing the company’s alleged attempts to influence regulators, scientists, public officials and the general public about the safety of Roundup and their other products over the past several decades.
Judge Chhabria decided to split the case into two phases after he called evidence of alleged corporate misconduct “a distraction from the scientific question of whether glyphosate causes cancer.”
Out of the nearly 10,000 and growing similar cases expected to take play out nationwide, Judge Chhabria will preside over hundreds of them of them.
The 49-year-old California native was nominated to office by President Barack Obama in 2013 and assumed office in March of 2014.