A U.S. judge ordered Bayer AG to pursue mediation with plaintiffs claiming that its Roundup weedkiller causes cancer, asking the company to try to settle lawsuits that have wreaked havoc on its share price.

More than 11,200 people have sued Bayer over Roundup in U.S. state and federal courts, and the company has lost two consecutive trials so far. The judge in San Francisco handling the federal suits initiated confidential talks as he canceled a third trial scheduled for May 20 that would have followed an $80 million verdict against Bayer last month.

“The parties should propose a mediator,” U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria wrote in an order Thursday. “If they cannot agree, the court will appoint someone.”

Chhabria said in lieu of the May trial, resources are better spent organizing the cases collected in the multidistrict litigation before him. That means determining which of those lawsuits should be dismissed, which should be sent to state courts, and sending other cases back to where they were originally filed for trials in federal court.

Bayer rose as much as 1 percent in Frankfurt on Friday, after an early dip. The legal fight over Roundup, and its main ingredient glyphosate, has wiped more than 30 billion euros ($34 billion) off the German company’s market value since the first trial loss last August.

Thomas G. Rohback, a trial lawyer at Axinn in New York, said in an email that Chhabria’s order requiring mediation isn’t unusual, and cautioned against reading too much into it leading to a settlement anytime soon. But he also pointed to the privacy of mediation, and how that could permit Bayer to resolve the litigation without the multimillion-dollar headlines the trials have produced. Analysts predict a settlement could top $5 billion.

“The confidentiality — which is also quite common — could help Bayer pay a settlement amount without making that public,” Rohback said. “Of course, the key is whether the parties can reach an agreement.”

‘Good Faith’

Chris Loder, a spokesman for Bayer, said the company will comply with the court’s order for mediation “in good faith.”

“As this litigation is still in the early stages — with only two verdicts and no cases that have run their course through appeal — we will also remain focused on defending the safety of glyphosate-based herbicides in court,” Bayer said in an e-mailed statement on Friday.

In addition to the March verdict in Chhabria’s court, Bayer lost the first Roundup trial last summer in state court and was ordered to pay $78.6 million in damages. Another state court trial is under way in Oakland, California.

The judge set a May 22 hearing to discuss mediation efforts and possibly set a new date for the canceled trial.

Michael Baum, a lawyer representing plaintiffs in the cases before Chhabria, said in an email that it’d be “prudent and responsible” for Bayer to settle the litigation. Though the company is outwardly denying the evidence against it, internally it may be “more accurately assessing Roundup’s risks” and shareholder pressure, he said.

The case is In re: Roundup Products Liability Litigation, MDL 2741, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

Topics Lawsuits USA