(Condensed from stories in the Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, and The UK Guardian)
Roundup weed killer was the most important factor in a California man getting non Hodgkin sarcoma, a six person jury determined unanimously Tuesday in the first phase of a trial that attorneys said could help determine the fate of thousands of similar lawsuits. This verdict in federal court in San Francisco came in a lawsuit filed against Monsanto, Roundup's manufacturer, by Edwin Hardeman, 70, the second plaintiff to go to trial out of thousands around the United States who maintain that the weed killer caused their cancers, despite Monsanto maintaining that "studies have established that Roundup's active ingredient, glyphosate, is safe."
Monsanto developed glyphosate in the 1970s; this weed killer is now sold in more than 160 countries. The herbicide came under severe scrutiny after the French based International Agency for Research on Cancer (part of the World Health Organization) classified it as a "probable human carcinogen" in 2015. Lawsuits against Monsanto followed. The company has attacked the international research agency's opinion as an outlier. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says glyphosate is safe for people when used in accordance with label directions.
Bayer naively still clings to the hope that it will prevail in the second part of the trial. Their spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement: "We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer. We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr Hardeman's cancer." Child also argued the decision would not impact future cases, "because each one has its own factual and legal circumstances."
U.S. Judge Vince Chhabria presides over hundreds of Roundup lawsuits and has deemed Hardeman's case and two others "bellwether trials." The judge had bifurcated Hardeman's trial into two phases. Hardeman's attorneys had to first convince jurors that using Roundup was a significant factor in his cancer before they could make arguments for damages.
The outcome of such cases determines whether lawyers will keep fighting or will move to settle the cases. Legal experts said a jury verdict in favor of Hardeman and the other test plaintiffs would give their attorneys a strong bargaining position in any settlement talks for the remaining cases before Chhabria. This trial before Chhabria now moves on to the second phase to determine whether the company is liable and if so, for how much.
Jennifer Moore, one of his lead attorneys said this: "This has been a long time coming for Mr. Hardeman. He's very pleased he had his day in court, and we're looking forward to phase two."
Many government regulators have rejected a link between cancer and glyphosate. Monsanto has vehemently denied such a connection, saying hundreds of studies have established that the chemical is safe. Bayer, which acquired Monsanto last year, said in a statement after the verdict that it continues to "believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer."
"We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer," it said.
Hardeman started using Roundup products to treat poison oak, overgrowth and weeds on his Sonoma County property in the 1980s and continued using them through 2012, according to his attorneys. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2015.
U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria scheduled opening arguments to begin Wednesday morning. The jury reached the verdict on its fifth day of deliberation. Hardeman's lawsuit is the first to go to trial of more than 760 lawsuits that were filed against Monsanto in federal courts around the nation and transferred to Chhabria's court for judicial coordination.
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