Bayer Reaches $2 Billion Deal Over Future Roundup Cancer Claims

The German pharmaceutical giant hopes to resolve any future legal troubles it may inherit by purchasing Roundup manufacturer Monsanto.

(CN) — German chemical giant Bayer announced Wednesday it will pay up to $2 billion in a federal class action settlement that, if approved, would resolve future claims that its popular weed killer Roundup causes cancer.

Bayer has been working to settle thousands of claims in U.S. federal court that Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killers cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma. 

Under the settlement announced Wednesday, Bayer — which purchased the agrochemical company Monsanto for $63 billion in 2018 — would compensate people who’ve been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and who may file federal lawsuits in the future. The settlement would also cover people who were exposed to Roundup and who may develop the cancer at a later time.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, who has overseen hundreds of Roundup lawsuits as part of a federal multidistrict litigation, will review the proposed settlement and decide whether to grant final approval.

Chhabria previously expressed concerns that future claimants could face challenges suing in the future by joining or opting out of the $10 billion settlement Bayer proposed in 2020 to settle 125,000 claims. He has told the parties he was concerned about the “fairness” of the agreement and indicated he may restart the litigation after some plaintiffs said Bayer pulled out of the agreement.

“First, and foremost, the present agreement is based on conventional notions of claims resolution rather than issue preclusive determinations,” plaintiffs’ counsel said in a motion for preliminary approval filed Wednesday. “Importantly in light of the court’s concerns, the settlement does so on terms whereby not a single class member can lose the right to sue Monsanto for compensation in the tort system unless he or she individually decides — after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma — to participate in the compensation fund and accept payment, in return for a release.”

The motion for preliminary approval of the settlement was filed Wednesday in the Northern District of California. It does not require Bayer to acknowledge any wrongdoing or liability.

If approved, the agreement holds a set of guidelines for providing qualifying class members with varying levels of compensation between $5,000 and up to $200,000 over a four-year period. The settlement would also establish a panel of scientists who would provide nonbinding evidentiary conclusions for potential future litigation involving class members.

Chhabria has previously rejected the inclusion of the science panel in a proposed settlement.

The agreement would also fund research and diagnostic testing programs to aid future claimants while also expanding access to notices about the risks associated with Roundup.

“Consistent with recent actions taken by Bayer to provide greater transparency and access to glyphosate studies, the company also will seek permission from the Environmental Protection Agency to add a reference link on the labels for its glyphosate-based products that will provide consumers with access to scientific studies and information that the company has permission to disclose or are in the public domain,” the company said in a statement Wednesday.

BayerAG spokesperson Chris Loder declined to comment further.

An attorney for the plaintiffs underscored the importance of the settlement for farmworkers and people who don’t have money to hire a lawyer.

“Today’s settlement provides a legal remedy for those who have been exposed to Roundup and lack the ability to hire a lawyer or access to the basic diagnostic services necessary to know if they have NHL,” said Elizabeth Cabraser, partner at Lieff Cabraser and lead counsel for the potential claimants. “Many of those exposed to Roundup, especially agricultural workers whose first language may not be English, may be unaware of the issues surrounding Monsanto’s Roundup. Equity demands similar opportunities for this group of people as it does for the thousands of claimants who have retained counsel and achieved meaningful settlement offers.

“We are proud to have achieved such a comprehensive settlement for our clients and the thousands of others who will benefit.”

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer deemed glyphosate, the active chemical in Roundup, a probable carcinogen in 2015.

In 2018, a California jury awarded San Francisco Bay Area groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson $289 million in punitive damages after a trial over whether glyphosate caused his cancer and whether Monsanto deliberately failed to warn the public about the risk of its product.

The trial judge later reduced the award to $78.5 million. A California appellate panel sliced the award even more, to $20.4 million.

The pharmaceutical giant previously paid roughly $650 million to resolve cases claiming its products polluted waterways throughout the United States with carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which it stopped making in 1977. 

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