California Couple Awarded $2 Billion In Roundup Trial

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The legal headlines love to splash big numbers across the page — “Jury Awards California Couple $2 Billion!” they scream. But they never tell readers about the horrors the plaintiffs have to live with in order to get those big awards. In California, a jury recently awarded Alva and Alberta Pilliod $1 billion each plus $55 million in compensatory damages for medical bills and other expenses after it found that Roundup, a weed killer manufactured by Monsanto, was the cause of their health issues.

Monsanto Roundup
Photo by JeepersMedia on / CC BY

It’s Not Like Winning The Lottery

But it’s not exactly like the Pilliods won the lottery. Both had to get really, really sick first. Alva was diagnosed with systemic non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2011. The disease spread into his pelvis and spine. Alberta was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma brain cancer in 2015. Both are now in remission but all that money does not mean they will live a normal life going forward.

The jury in this case and other similar cases ruled that Roundup was defectively designed by Monsanto, that the company failed to warn consumers about the cancer risks, and that Monsanto has acted negligently. In the discovery phase of those trials, attorneys for the plaintiffs have uncovered internal Monsanto documents that reveal the ways in which the company has “bullied” scientists over the years and helped “ghostwrite” research defending the safety of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup.

An Analogy To Fossil Fuel Companies

Any analogy to what the fossil fuel companies have done with regard to the impact of their business activities on global warming is completely appropriate. Unlike other Roundup cases, the judge in California permitted attorneys for the Pilliods to present evidence of Monsanto’s bad behavior to the jury. Imagine if climate activists ever get to do the same in their suits against oil and gas companies.

“We were finally allowed to show a jury the mountain of evidence showing Monsanto’s manipulation of science, the media and regulatory agencies to forward their own agenda despite Roundup’s severe harm to the animal kingdom and humankind,” says Michael Miller, one of the attorneys for the Pilliods.

“Monsanto has never had any interest in finding out whether Roundup is safe,” adds Brent Wisner, another of the Pilliods’ attorneys. “Instead of investing in sound science, they invested millions in attacking science that threatened their business agenda.” Hmmm….does that sound familiar? Haven’t the Koch Brothers, ExxonMobil, and the American Petroleum Institute been doing the same thing since Jimmy Carter was in the White House?

Now The End Game Begins

Any first year law student knows this is far from the end of this case. When corporations lose in court, they immediately appeal. The name of the game is to hold on to the money as long as possible. In some cases, that money can earn more while sitting in the company’s bank account than the total amount of the award. And there are several grounds for appeal.

A higher court may disagree with the trial judge’s decision to permit evidence of what Monsanto was doing to obfuscate the evidence. It would then send the case back for a new trial. The trial judge has the power to reduce the size of the award if he or she feels it is unconscionably large. Any number of misadventures can delay the day when the plaintiffs actually receive any of that money.

In the law game, an old adage says, “Delay always works to someone’s advantage.” Corporations have flotillas of $1,000 an hour lawyers who do nothing but devise strategies to slow the process down. The best possible outcome for them would be for the Pilliods to die before they see a nickel of the award. That’s the sort of result that makes corporate lawyers smile.

Monsanto is now owned by Bayer, the German chemical company. Bayer stockholders may be in for a bumpy ride. The Pilliods’ attorneys estimate that there are now 13,400 similar Roundup cancer cases pending in state and federal courts in the US. Here’s some advice for Bayer investors. Keep your hands inside the vehicle and your seat belts fastened until the ride comes to a complete stop.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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