© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Logo of Bayer AG is pictured at the annual results news conference of the German drugmaker in Leverkusen, Germany February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay
By Tom Hals
(Reuters) – A Missouri jury ordered Bayer (OTC:) to pay $1.56 billion to four plaintiffs who claimed the company’s Roundup weedkiller caused injuries including cancer, a verdict that could intensify investor pressure on the German drugs and agricultural chemicals company to change its legal strategy.
The Cole County, Missouri jury found on Friday that Bayer’s Monsanto (NYSE:) business was liable for claims of negligence, design defects and failing to warn plaintiffs of the potential dangers of using Roundup, according to court documents.
Valorie Gunther of New York, Jimmy Draeger of Missouri and Daniel Anderson of California were awarded a combined $61.1 million in compensatory damages and $500 million each in punitive damages. Each was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma that they alleged was caused by using Roundup on their family property. Draeger’s wife Brenda was awarded $100,000 for the harm she allegedly suffered from her husband’s disease.
The punitive damages could be reduced on appeal as it exceeds U.S. Supreme Court guidance.
Bayer has said that decades of studies have shown Roundup and its active ingredient, glyphosate, are safe for human use.
The verdict is the fourth straight loss in court for Bayer, after the company had been found not liable to plaintiffs in nine consecutive trials. Earlier this month, Union Investment, one of Bayer’s top 10 shareholders, called on the company to consider trying to engage with plaintiffs to settle more cases.
Bart Rankin, partner at Forrest Weldon which represented the plaintiffs, said in a statement the victory was the first of many on behalf of thousands of plaintiffs.
Bayer said in a statement that it has strong arguments to get the recent verdicts overturned on appeal.
It said in the recent trials that have gone against the company, courts have improperly permitted plaintiffs to misrepresent the European Union’s renewal process for glyphosate and the safety assessment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The EU Commission said last week it would renew its approval of glyphosate based on safety assessments of the European Food Agency and European Chemicals Agency after EU member states failed to give a clear opinion on the renewal.
Around 165,000 claims have been made against the company for personal injuries allegedly caused by Roundup, which Bayer acquired as part of its $63 billion purchase of agrochemical company Monsanto in 2018.
In 2020, Bayer settled most of the then-pending Roundup cases for up to $10.9 billion. Around 50,000 claims remain pending, according to regulatory filings.