Northern California Record

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Monsanto appeals $87 million award in Roundup case

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By Tom Lawrence | Feb 10, 2020

Roundup
Roundup, a widely used weed killer produced by Monsanto, has been at the center of high-profile lawsuits that claim its active ingredient is carcinogenic. | File photo

LOS ANGELES — A widely used weed killer is not responsible for the cancer with which a California couple has been diagnosed, and a 2019 verdict that awarded them more than $2 billion — later reduced to $87 million — should be overturned, Monsanto stated in an appeal filed Feb. 7.

Monsanto, which produces and markets Roundup, a herbicide containing glyphosate, was sued by Alva and Alberta Pilliod of Livermore, California. The couple claims the popular weed killer, marketed for nearly 50 years, caused the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma they have been diagnosed with. Both are in their mid-70s.

In the appeal brief filed with the California Court of Appeal, Monsanto asked to have the verdict reversed. The appeal claims the case was not proved and the product liability claims are preempted by U.S. law.

The majority of the judgment was in punitive damages, and the filing states that there is no factual claim to support it.

”The jury’s verdicts and the damages awarded cannot be reconciled with either the law or sound science, and the court should reverse and enter judgment in favor of Monsanto, or in the alternative, order a new trial on all claims,” Monsanto said in a release.

The trial, which was expedited due to the couple’s age, opened on March 28, 2019. Both sides presented cases that included testimony from scientists who have studied the herbicide, as well as health care professionals.

On May 13, the jury announced it had found for the Pilliods and awarded them $1 billion each in damages, along with $55 million in compensatory damages. It was the third defeat for Monsanto in such cases. The company faces thousands of other potential lawsuits over the use of glyphosate.

But Monsanto seeks to overturn the decision reached by an Oakland jury last fall. The brief notes that repeated studies — including by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — have shown glyphosate can be used safely and is not carcinogenic. The EPA refused to approve a warning label stating that Roundup could cause cancer.

The appeal reiterates the argument made before the trial that the cases should not have been joined. The Pilliods' medical history was quite dissimilar and they have different forms of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

In addition, there were numerous other possible causes, including the fact that both smoked tobacco and had numerous other medical conditions that could have led to their cancer.

The jury heard multiple reports of fraud at the IBT laboratory, including statements made in the plaintiffs' counsel’s closing remarks. Monsanto, now owned by German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG, claims it was a victim of fraudulent activity at the lab and not an active participant.

The appeal also claims the Pilliods’ counsel engaged in “repeated misconduct” by inciting fear in the jury, encouraging it to provide an “historic” judgment and saying regulatory agencies would have “blood on their hands” if their rulings on glyphosate were proved false.

A demonstration of Roundup, with an attorney dramatically donning gloves before spraying the popular herbicide, further stoked fears, Monsanto claims in the filing.

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