What Are Roundup Cancer Lawsuits All About? – Part One of Two

A good number of my clients have called in to ask me about the Roundup cases that they’ve seen either on TV ads, or on the internet & social media.   It seems that anyone who has ever used this product has a lot of questions about it, so I’ll try to address them in the most accurate, efficient way that I can, given current case law and clinical information on this product.

First, what is Roundup?

Roundup is primarily a weed killer, an herbicide, and it has become the most widely used herbicide in the world. It’s used wherever weeds grow:  Lawns, farms, gardens, greenhouses, parks and more.  It is used commercially by professionals in the farming, landscaping and agricultural sectors, and by homeowners as well.  Monsanto makes Roundup, (though Bayer recently bought Monsanto), and this product earned more than $6 billion in revenue annually in recent years. More than 250 million pounds of it is used each year globally. The ingredient that many believe causes non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and other types of cancers is called glyphosate, and in 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) termed glyphosate a “probable human carcinogen”.

The most serious result of exposure to glyphosate is are different types of cancer – first, non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL), a cancer that can begin almost anywhere in the body within white blood cells in the immune system.  In terms of incidence, NHL is followed also by leukemia and multiple myeloma. F armworkers and agricultural workers, naturally have reported the most cases of NHL, which is a cancer that begins in while blood cells within the immune system.  To understand the scope of this problem, the American Cancer Society has estimated that as many as 74,000 Americans could be diagnosed with NHL in 2019 alone.  Symptoms include anemia, enlarged lymph nodes, chest pain, and difficulty breathing.  Garden center employees and people working in greenhouses are most at risk for developing leukemia after prolonged exposure to Roundup, and symptoms of leukemia generally include chills, fever, nose bleeding or easy bruising, and severe infections.

Who Can Bring These Cases, and How & Where Are Lawsuits Filed?

Certainly, anyone using this product is potentially at risk. I want to make that clear.   But landscapers, gardeners, and farmers are most likely to have the most significant exposure to these pesticides.

First, product liability cases like this can be filed, generally speaking, in either state court or state court, depending on the facts of the case. The initial Roundup cases were filed in state courts and resulted in very high verdicts favoring the plaintiffs. The first of these verdicts came in August 2018 when a jury in a California state court awarded the plaintiff damages of $289 million (a judge later reduced the damages to $78.5 million). In March 2019, another California trial produced an incredible verdict of $2 billion – $1 billion of which were for punitive damages (damages to punish the defendant, rather than compensate the plaintiff.)   Those 2 state court cases were then followed by the first federal court Roundup case, which resulted in an $80 million jury award to a plaintiff.  All plaintiffs in these cases claimed that exposure Roundup caused them to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer).  Those initial cases were against chemical products giant Johnson & Johnson, but J&J was subsequently bought by pharmaceutical giant Bayer, so now Bayer is battling these cases.  The rumor in legal circles is that Bayer wants to negotiate a global settlement of Roundup claims before any more cases come out in favor of plaintiffs.

When these case results above started hitting the media, many more Roundup cancer claims started to appear, many of them being filed in federal courts.  That caused a federal judicial panel to in 2016 assign a case management system to federal court Roundup claims called “Multi District Litigation” or “MDL”.  MDL’s allow cases that involve the same defendant and same allegations, to be consolidated under one large umbrella, if you will, with a special federal court judge managing the cases, instead of having perhaps  hundreds of similar cases against the same defendant filed in different federal courts all across the country. For present & future Roundup MDL cases filed against Monsanto in any federal court will be consolidated in the Northern District of California federal court, under Judge Vince Chhabria.  This is very important because creation of any MDL allows plaintiffs’ attorneys to share resources in these cases.

What Are Roundup Cases Generally Worth?

Whenever a class action MDL has been established involving similar claims against a defendant, such as with Roundup, the outcomes and verdict amounts of the first few trials are generally utilized as the basis for the plaintiffs and the defendant to negotiate a “global settlement” that will apply to future cases. As described above, the initial Roundup trials resulted in a series of massive verdicts for the plaintiffs.  Because the first few Roundup trials discussed above resulted in high awards for the plaintiffs, my prediction is that the global settlement package in the federal Roundup cases is likely going to be very high.

As of the date of this blog post, there are presently more than 1,600 Roundup cases pending and I would not think it unrealistic to expect that an additional 1,000 or so cases will be filed over the 12 months.  Assuming that a global settlement is negotiated in the federal MDL, it would probably incorporate some type of tiered structure for the cases involved, depending on duration of exposure to Roundup, and severity of symptoms.

In my next post on Roundup cases, I’ll discuss how you can determine if you might have a valid claim, and how you might be able to proceed.