A state court jury ordered Monsanto to pay a California couple $2 billion in damages after finding that its popular weed-killer, Roundup, caused their cancer. This is the third strike against the agribusiness giant, now owned by Bayer: In March, a man with non-Hodgkins lymphoma was awarded $80 million, and a former groundskeeper received $289 million in damages last year.
Lawyers for the couple, Alva and Alberta Pilliod, said a judge will likely reduce the settlement on appeal, the Associated Press reports. But this isn't the end for Monsanto's financial challenges: An estimated 13,000 more plaintiffs are suing the company for allegedly causing their cancer, with perhaps more to come.
Jean Eggen, a toxic torts expert at Widener University, predicts that this number will continue to rise. Although the jury's decision in Oakland this week cannot set a legal precedent, it does signal a turning point on the issue of causation. As Eggen explained in an interview with Pacific Standard in March:
After a similar verdict last year, when the jury awarded a former groundskeeper with cancer $289 million in damages, there was an uptick in Roundup lawsuits. "Many of the plaintiffs fit the same kind of disease profile and exposure profile," Eggen says. "It's not good news for Bayer." Other companies might change their legal strategy after such a loss, but Eggens says a large, multi-national corporation like Bayer can take the hit. "It seems as though they're dug in on fighting these cases, and fighting them on a very individual basis ... like the tobacco companies did a decade or so ago."
Meanwhile, Bayer said it would appeal Monday's verdict, maintaining that the main ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, is safe. "The verdict in this trial has no impact on future cases and trials, as each one has its own factual and legal circumstances," the company said in a statement on Monday.
Although the courts have favored the plaintiffs so far, scientists on both sides have acknowledged the need for more research. The Environmental Protection Agency said it affirmed glyphosate poses no "risks to public health" after a review in April of 2019, but the World Health Organization has classified the herbicide as a "probable" carcinogen.