Even after three big losses in court trials and a plunge in market value, Bayer AG isn’t close to settling tens of thousands of U.S. lawsuits claiming its Roundup weedkiller causes cancer, according to a lawyer who won one of those cases.
Aimee Wagstaff, who helped persuade a jury to award $80 million in damages to a Roundup user earlier this year, said more trials loom in 2020 and Bayer “doesn’t care” that its Monsanto unit lost her case, or the other two. Wagstaff declined to elaborate, though Bayer has insisted publicly Roundup is safe. The German company has appealed the trial losses and said it will continue the fight in court.
“I wouldn’t expect any settlement in the near future,” Wagstaff, a Denver-based attorney, told a group of plaintiffs’ lawyers at a Las Vegas convention Oct. 23. “This litigation is far from being over.” She didn’t return phone calls and an email Tuesday seeking additional comment.
Bayer has lost more than $30 billion in value since last year’s $63 billion purchase of Roundup creator Monsanto Co. The deal put Bayer Chief Executive Officer Werner Baumann on the hot seat as claims against the weedkiller escalated, raising concern from investors about the cost of resolving the litigation.
If the recent court losses are repeated for all the cases, Bayer’s liability could reach hundreds of billions of dollars, though the company would likely pay far less to settle all those claims, said Holly Froum, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst.
Bloomberg News reported in August that Bayer floated a settlement proposal valued at $6 billion to $8 billion to resolve all the lawsuits. Ken Feinberg, a mediator called in by U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria to facilitate the talks, dismissed the report as “pure fiction.”
Bayer declined to comment Tuesday, citing confidentiality of mediation talks, spokesman Tino Andresen said by phone.
Analysts have estimated the cost of settling all the U.S. lawsuits could be anywhere from $2.5 billion to $20 billion. Some investors say paying less than $10 billion would be worth it.
If a deal comes together, it would allay a shareholder revolt following the losses in California courts, which began with an August 2018 verdict in San Francisco. In those cases, the average payouts were almost $50 million per plaintiff, after judges reduced jury verdicts that totaled more than $2.4 billion. After each company loss, thousands of new cases were filed.
Bayer said Wednesday that the number of Roundup plaintiffs has risen to 42,700 from 18,400 when it last reported in July. The uptick came as plaintiff attorneys increased their advertising seeking new clients after Bayer entered mediation discussions. The number of lawsuits “says nothing about their merits,” Bayer said while reporting an increase in third-quarter earnings.
During her remarks at Mass Torts Made Perfect, a convention that draws thousands of plaintiffs’ lawyers to Las Vegas annually, Wagstaff said Bayer faces about a dozen trials next year over the Roundup cancer claims and lawyers are readying to try them.
“There’s not a settlement right here — we have to get ready for the long game,” Mike Papantonio, a Florida-based lawyer who hosts the conference, told attendees at the session about Bayer’s Roundup litigation.
Two cases in state court in California are set to be the first to go to trial in mid-January, Wagstaff said. Bayer also faces its next federal court case before Chhabria in February. That judge has thousands of Roundup cases consolidated before him for pre-trial information exchanges and test trials, including in other states.
The company also faces cases next year in state courts in Missouri, Montana and Hawaii and federal courts in Nebraska, Illinois and North Carolina, Wagstaff said. While the early cases have involved home gardeners or groundskeepers, the Montana case will be the first to focus on claims by a farmer who used the weedkiller on his crops, she said. That case is scheduled for trial in April.
The consolidated case is IN RE: Roundup Products Liability Litigation, MDL 2741, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).