Monsanto ordered to pay $1.5 billion

Bayer's Monsanto unit was ordered by a Missouri jury to pay more than $1.5 billion to three former users of its Roundup weedkiller who blamed their cancers on the controversial product in one of its largest trial losses in the five-year litigation over the herbicide.

Jurors in state court in Jefferson City, Mo., late Friday awarded James Draeger, Valorie Gunther and Dan Anderson a total of $61.1 million in actual damages and $500 million each in punitive damages over their claims that years of using Roundup on their lawns and gardens caused their non-Hodgkin lymphomas.

Monsanto has been hit with a recent spate of jury verdicts finding that its Roundup contains carcinogens after winning nine cases against it. The more than $1.5 billion verdict is one of the largest damage awards handed down against a U.S. corporate defendant this year. A federal court jury in Kansas City concluded Oct. 31 that the National Association of Realtors and others conspired to artificially inflate commissions paid to real estate agents across the United States and must pay at least $1.78 billion in damages.

Bayer officials said Saturday that they believe U.S. judges have allowed former Roundup users to mischaracterize regulatory decisions governing the product's safety before juries, and that led to the recent round of plaintiffs' wins. "We have strong arguments to get the recent unfounded verdicts overturned," a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Bayer also noted in the statement that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues to find Roundup and its main ingredient, glyphosate, safe, and a federal appeals court recently backed a rejection of calls for Bayer to include safety warnings on the product's distinctive white bottles. The company agreed to transition from the version of Roundup containing glyphosate to new active weed-killing ingredients in the U.S. consumer market by the end of the year.

It is likely that the jury award to Draeger, Gunther and Anderson will be slashed on post-trial motion or appeal under U.S. Supreme Court rulings that limit such punishment awards to 10 times a plaintiff's actual damages. The punitive award in the Missouri case is about 25 times more than the damages awarded for medical expenses and pain and suffering.

Former users contend in the Roundup cases that Monsanto officials knew some researchers had found glyphosate to be a carcinogen and the company sought to bury those studies. Internal Monsanto documents made public during the litigation also showed that company officials ghost-wrote scientific studies backing glyphosate's safety.

Bayer Chief Executive Officer Bill Anderson has been reviewing the German company's strategy and structure since taking over the helm in June. The Texas native has said nothing is off the table as he seeks to win back the faith of investors and navigate the company out of a thicket of challenges.

Anderson's room for maneuverability could be constrained if the company's U.S. legal problems -- which also include litigation around other legacy Monsanto products, such as toxic PCBs -- flare up again with more high-profile trial losses. The company is facing more trials in state courts in Arkansas and Delaware in coming months.

The Missouri case brought together claims of former users who lived across the United States. Draeger and his wife, a landscaper, used Roundup on their home gardens in Mississippi and in commercial jobs, said Jay Utley, a Dallas-based lawyer for three ex-Roundup users.

The case is Anderson v. Monsanto, Case No. 22AC-CC00968, Missouri Circuit Court for Cole County (Jefferson City).

Information for this article was contributed by Tim Loh of Bloomberg News.