Third Monsanto trial comes to an end; verdict looms

By Rich Peters | May 13, 2019

OAKLAND – The third trial in which plaintiffs allege that the popular weedkiller Roundup caused their cancer came to an end this week and the verdict looms.

Alva and Alberta Pilliod are the first married couple to have such claims against Monsanto’s product. The couple, both in their 70s, alleged they used the spray around multiple Northern California properties for three decades before finally stopping in 2016 when they became aware of a possible link between the product’s active ingredient glyphosate and their form of cancer – non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

For the last six weeks, plaintiffs’ attorneys have argued to the Alameda County Superior Court jury that Roundup was a substantial factor in causing their clients' cancer and that Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, failed to warn customers of the risks its products posed. 

Plaintiffs’ expert witness Dr. Dennis Weisenburger grabbed headlines early in the trial when he claimed cancer risks rise at a high rate with the kind of steady, three-decade dose of glyphosate that the Pilliods were subjected to.

“Your risk is increased two-fold for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma if you used it more than two days per year,” said Weisenburger. “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.”

But just weeks later, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that there are “no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label” and that “glyphosate is not a carcinogen.”

In trial on the very same day as the EPA’s release, Monsanto’s expert witness Dr. Robert Phalen claimed that glyphosate is not easily absorbed by the human body and argued that a high dosage rate is unlikely despite decades of the product’s use by the plaintiffs.

Defendant attorney Tarek Ismail reiterated those sentiments and reassured the safety of Roundup during his closing argument earlier this week. 

“And so on this question that is central to every claim they have in this case – did the plaintiffs prove that Roundup was a substantial factor in causing their NHL? – I suggest to you the answer is no for multiple reasons.”

Ismail continued: “I would ask on your own to try to think of the evidence and arguments on the other side of the story…You’re about to begin your deliberations, and I’d ask at the conclusion of which you render your verdict for Monsanto.”

Plaintiffs’ attorney Brett Wisner closed his argument with one final attempt to prove that Roundup was the substantial factor – telling the Alameda County jury to “Go get ‘em.”

“Simple fact in the evidence you have is that the only thing that could have been a substantial contributing factor is Roundup,” said Wisner.

In regards to damages sought, Wisner said, “I’m not saying you have to award a billion dollars in punitive damages, but it’s something you should seriously consider. This isn't about giving a billion dollars to the Pilliods. They don't need it. They don't care about that. That’s what the compensatory damages are for.

"The billion dollars is not about giving money to the Pilliods; it’s about taking money away from Monsanto. They can afford it, and they need to pay. Because that’s the kind of number that sends a message to every single boardroom, every single stockholder, every single person in Monsanto that can make a decision about the future. That is a number that changes things,” Wisner said.

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