Third Roundup trial continues in state court while federal judge calls for mediation

By Rich Peters | Apr 12, 2019

OAKLAND - The third cancer trial against Monsanto has reached the end of week three as the long list of testimonies are expected to wrap up soon with closing arguments to follow.

Plaintiffs Alva and Alberta Pilliod, both in their 70s, are the latest plaintiffs who claim Monsanto’s Roundup gave them non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Alva was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and his wife, Alberta, was diagnosed in 2015.

Outside of the Pilliod trial it is a busy time for Monsanto, acquired by Bayer last year, as the company continues to prepare for future lawsuits while also attempting to restore its image through both Roundup’s marketing and acts of transparency.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria this week issued a formal order of mediation, asking Bayer to negotiate with lawyers for cancer victims who claim Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides caused their non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Chhabria presided over last month’s Edwin Hardeman v. Monsanto trial in which the plaintiff was awarded $80.5 million in damages. It was believed that the San Francisco federal judge would make a decision after all four bellwether trials were complete, but the third has yet to reach its closing arguments.

The fourth trial, Stevick v. Monsanto, was expected to begin on May 20 with Judge Chhabria presiding over it. However, he has deferred that date as he urges the parties to come to terms on a settlement. A hearing will take place on May 22.

“The Court has determined that, at this stage in the proceedings, the resources of the parties and the Court are better spent on organizing the remaining cases in the MDL. This includes determining which cases must be dismissed, determining which cases must be remanded to state court, and preparing the remaining cases for transfer back to their home districts for federal court trials,” wrote Chhabria.

More than 10,000 plaintiffs have now sued Monsanto with more than 800 of those cases expected to be overseen by Chhabria, thousands more pending, and more expected to be filed around the country.

Last week also broached the subject of geo-fencing in regard to the location and content of Roundup’s advertisements. Bayer’s ad campaigns, promoting the safety of Roundup, sparked the plaintiffs to attempt a gag order on the company. 

Alameda Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith denied their motion on April 4.

“Plaintiffs have not met their burden to show that Monsanto’s speech presents an actual threat of imminent prejudice to Plaintiffs’ right to a fair trial nor shown that there are no viable alternatives to a prior restraint on Monsanto’s speech,” ruled Smith.

Inside the courtroom of the Pilliod case, plaintiffs’ attorneys continued to question a range of scientists and experts on the effects of glyphosate. 

One witness who took the stand this week is Dr. Dennis Weisenburger.

Weisenburger, who also testified in the Hardeman trial, is the chair of the pathology department of the City of Hope Medical Center in Duarte. He has specialized in the studies of the hematopoietic and immune systems, with a special interest in non-Hodgkins lymphoma for nearly four decades, according to his resume.

Referring to a chart proposed by the plaintiff’s attorneys, Weisenburger broke down the statistics. “This is the data on the number of days per year,” said Weisenburger. “Here, you see the risk for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. If you didn’t use it, your risk is no risk. If you used it two days or less, your risk is .8, so it's really close to one.

“There’s no risk using it less than two days or less per year. But if you used it more than two days per year, the risk goes up almost two-fold, and it’s statistically significant.”

Plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Miller asked, “Is that or is that not a dose exposure response?”

“Right. So what it shows you is that your risk is increased two-fold for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma if you used it more than two days per year,” answered Weisenburger.

“So this is kind of a nice dose response. The more you used it, the more your risk is increased. Being exposed a little bit didn't increase your risk, but being exposed more increased your risk.”

Miller alleged that every week his clients were “getting a dose of glyphosate.”

Bayer, which will present its case when plaintiffs conclude, argues that science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer.

The court rested on Friday; the case will continue next week.

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