Friday, May 31, 2019

Roundup maker fights 'liberal standard,' damages

Monsanto asks federal court to shift venue of Roundup cancer suits from California and its 'media bias'

Monsanto want the federal Roundup cancer lawsuits moved out of California, claiming, among other things, that the state's media is biased against the company.

According to a San Francisco Chronicle story by Bob Egelko yesterday, the agrichemical giant says California has "plaintiff-friendly laws and 'highly prejudicial coverage' in news media."

Shades of Donald Trump screeching about bias and fake news.

The Monsanto request — in which the company cites Proposition 65, a 1986 ballot measure authorizing state health officials to declare that chemicals and other products pose a risk of cancer or birth defects — came after three verdicts by San Francisco Bay Area juries awarded huge damages to cancer victims who used the company's herbicides.

The agribusiness has asked that the next federal cases be shifted to Nebraska and North Carolina, where some other plaintiffs live.

Ironically, the next trial is slated Aug. 19 in County Circuit Court in St. Louis, Monsanto's hometown, where, an online story by Carey Gillam in Environmental Health News indicates, "corporate officials can be forced to appear on the witness stand, and legal precedence shows a history of anti-corporate judgments."

Aimee Wagstaff
Aimee Wagstaff, who was co-lead counsel for Edwin Hardeman, a Sonoma County, California, man who was awarded $80 million in damages, will also be co-counsel in the Missouri case filed by Sharlean Gordon, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after 15 years of using Roundup.

Wagstaff, Gillam's story says, "plans to subpoena several Monsanto scientists to appear on the witness stand to answer questions directly in front of a jury. She and the other attorneys trying the California cases were not able to force Monsanto employees to testify live because of the distance. The law provides that witnesses cannot be compelled to travel more than 100 miles or out of state from where they live or work."

Egelko's piece notes that of "more than 3,000 pending lawsuits nationwide by users of Roundup and other Monsanto weed killers, about 1,300 federal suits have been consolidated before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria of San Francisco," who'd presided over the first federal trial in March.

The International Association for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, has classified Roundup's active ingredient, glyphosate, as a probable cause of cancer in humans — although it isn't listed "as hazardous by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or regulatory agencies in other countries," the Chronicle article asserts.

California, not incidentally, "listed glyphosate as a cancer-causing substance in 2017, although a federal judge later stopped the state from requiring Monsanto to post warning labels on the product."

The company's attorneys, the article also reports, claim California law "allows juries to find that a product is a 'substantial factor' of an illness, a more liberal standard than in other states; makes it easer than other states to qualify witnesses as experts; and, unlike some states, has no limits on damages for emotional distress or punitive damages."

The lawyers also contend that "California's pool of prospective jurors is tainted by the extensive and highly prejudicial coverage in local, state and national news media of the prior three California verdicts."

The judgments against Monsanto, after lawyers for cancer victims had argued that the company had "unduly influenced the EPA," Egelko adds, have included "$289 million by a San Francisco jury for a Benicia school groundskeeper, later reduced by a judge to $78.5 million; $80 million by a jury in Chhabia's court for [Hardeman], and more than $2 billion, mostly in punitive damages, by an Oakland jury for a Livermore couple."

Monsanto, which was purchased by Bayer AG last June, a German pharmaceutical company, is appealing all three verdicts, after which the stock prices of Bayer dipped to their lowest level in seven years, erasing more than 40 percent of their market value.

More information on lawsuits stemming from chemicals can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Minorities feel cast aside by health system

Black women's fatality rate from breast cancer greatly exceeds that of whites, HuffPost story says

Black women are 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than whites, especially in the South.

That was the conclusion of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a recent story by Max Blau on the HuffPost website.

"Louisiana and Mississippi have the highest racial disparities in breast cancer mortality," Blau's piece quotes the American Cancer Society, with the excess death rate among black women being more than 60%.

But Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee all have rates above 40%.

One reason, the HuffPost article says, "is that researchers haven't developed advanced treatments for a series of aggressive [and hard to treat] tumors — known as triple-negative breast cancer — that black women are more likely to get. Another is that recent advancements in cancer therapies for other kinds of tumors have yet to be fully proven in minorities, in part because of the lack of diversity in…clinical trials."

Moreover, the story contends, "black women have described feeling cast aside by a health system of doctors, nurses and support groups that rarely look like them; and face further obstacles outside labs and hospitals — including lack of access to jobs, transit and health insurance. This marginalization of black women is especially prevalent in the South."

Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice
Blau quotes Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, president and dean of the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, as expressing the hope that "we move beyond the disparities and put our dollars toward solutions that not only close the gaps but lead to healing equity."

The writer also notes that, at the 2019 American Association for Cancer Research's annual conference, Dr. Shafiq Khan, a biological sciences professor at Clark Atlanta University, maintained that "treatments developed and approved are disproportionately tested on white people."

More information on triple-negative research can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Agribusiness giant to appeal cancer decisions

Oakland jury hits Monsanto with a $2 billion verdict because Roundup weedkiller caused lymphoma

Although an Oakland jury awarded a couple more than $2 billion this week in their suit claiming a Monsanto weedkiller caused their cancer, the verdict is expected to be severely trimmed.

The large punitive damages, in the third consecutive trial that ruled against Bayer AG's glyphosate-based Roundup since August, "is likely to be reduced due to U.S. Supreme Court rulings that limit the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages to 9:1," according to a story by Tina Bellon of Reuters.
Alberta and Alva Pilliod. Photo courtesy
Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman

The jury in this case awarded only $55 million in compensatory damages to Alva and Alberta Pilliod, both of whom had contracted non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after using the weedkiller between 1975 and 2011.

Each were awarded $1 billion in punitive damages. 

The Reuters story reports that Alva was awarded $18 million in compensatory damages by the state court jury in Alameda, California; Alberta, his wife, $37 million — because Roundup purportedly was "defectively designed, that the company failed to warn of the herbicide's cancer risk and that the company acted negligently"

Bayer, which faces more than 13,400 U.S. lawsuits over Roundup's alleged cancer risk, had acquired the agribusiness giant Monsanto for $63 billion last year. An appeal is planned.

The Reuters story notes that Alberta Pilliod "called on Bayer to add a warning label to Roundup, saying she and her husband would not have used the product had it alerted them to a chance of risk. 'We've been fighting cancer for more than nine years now and we can't do any of the things we wanted to do. We really resent Monsanto for that,' Pilliod said."

The two prior San Francisco jury verdicts against Monsanto triggered steep declines in shares of Bayer; this decision is likely to cause a further dip. The earlier litigation wiped out some $33 billion from Bayer's market value.

The next suit to be adjudicated will be in Missouri state court in August, the first time a jury outside of California will hear a Roundup case. The trial will take place in St. Louis County, where Monsanto’s former headquarters are located. 

Lawsuits against the company so far have been based on the 2015 conclusion by the World Health Organization's cancer arm that classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogen to humans."

More information on verdicts in cases against manufacturers can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer,"4 a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Feds ignore complaints, fears of many women

FDA declines to ban breast implant that's linked to cancer but intends to increase information about risks

The FDA has decided not to ban a type of breast implant linked to a rare cancer — at least for now.

According to a story by Laurie McKinley in last week's editions of The Washington Post, the decision, which came a month after a dramatic hearing in which many women expressed fears, complained about the implants and called on the Food and Drug Administration to execute such a ban, the agency plans instead to "increase efforts to collect and disseminate information about risks involving the device."

A joint statement by Amy Abernethy, FDA principal deputy commissioner, and Jeff Shuren, director of the agency's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, maintains that the FDA doesn't believe the textured implant "meets the legal standard for being banned at this time, based on available data and information."

Other countries have either banned or restricted sales of similar products "because of concerns about what's called breast implant-associated anapestic large cell lymphoma, or BIA-ALCL," McKinley's story contends.

The FDA also notes that "while textured implants make up as much as 80 percent of the market share in some other countries, they represent only 10 percent or less of the implants sold in this country," the Post article continues.

Federal officials also say they don't have "definitive evidence" demonstrating that the implants cause  "'breast implant illness,' a constellation of auto-immune problems that includes joint and muscle pain and allergies and fatigue — a topic that was repeatedly raised at the March hearing." But they do add, according to McKinley's piece, that evidence supports "that some women experience systemic symptoms that may resolve when their breast implants are removed."

Diana Zukerman, PhD
That admission has led Diana Zukerman, a PhD and president of the National Center for Health Research, to claim it's "the closest the FDA has come to acknowledging breast implant illness," which, she insists, is "definitely progress."

Historically, the agency tends to be reluctant to ban devices — having done so only twice, with powdered surgeons' gloves and prosthetic hair fibers.

The FDA has, however, "said it is considering requiring implants to carry what's called a boxed warning — the agency's strongest safety warning. And it may require doctors and patients to sign checklists of risks to make sure women have the necessary information to make an informed decision."

McKinley's story states that "bout 400,000 women a year get implants in the United States — 75 percent for cosmetic reasons and most of the rest for breast reconstruction about cancer surgery."

For more information on implants and reconstruction, check out "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.