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.

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