OAKLAND, Calif. (Legal Newsline) – Following the more than $2 billion awarded to a California couple who claimed the use of Monsanto's Roundup weed killer caused their cancer, one legal expert is arguing that the judges presiding over the cases were "derelict in their duty" for not granting summary judgment against the plaintiffs.
Alva and Alberta Pilliod, a couple in their 70s from northern California, were awarded a total of $2 billion in punitive damages on May 13 in Alameda County Superior Court.
They claimed the glyphosate in the weed killer they used for decades directly caused their non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). This is despite U.S. and international regulatory bodies stating there is no proven link showing it causes the cancer.
This is the third verdict against Monsanto, now owned by German conglomerate Bayer. A jury in another California state court last summer awarded groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson $289 million, later reduced to $79 million. A federal jury in San Francisco awarded Edwin Hardeman $80 million in March.
Bayer is appealing both verdicts and signaled it will file an appeal in the most-recent case, which was presided over by Judge Winifred Smith in the Superior Court of Alameda County. The company is facing more than 13,000 lawsuits across the country from farmers, gardeners and others claiming their use of Roundup products caused cancer.
Professor David E. Bernstein, executive director of the George Mason University's Liberty & Law Center at the Antonin Scalia Law School, told Legal Newsline that the latest verdict is not the "first instance in which juries have found for plaintiffs in a toxic tort case despite the absence of reliable scientific evidence supporting their claim."
"But I can't think of any instance in which the defendants had such overwhelming negative evidence, with regulators around the world attesting to Roundup's safety, and yet the plaintiffs still consistently succeeding in early litigation," he said.
He added, "The judges in the Roundup cases have been derelict in their duty under federal and state rules of evidence in allowing the plaintiffs' experts to testify regarding very speculative theories of causation, rather than excluding the experts and granting summary judgment to Monsanto."
Bernstein also wrote in a column on Reason that the verdicts "are not justified by the scientific evidence."
Michael Miller, an attorney representing the Pilliods, told CNN that the jurors saw a "mountain of evidence showing Monsanto's manipulation of science, the media and regulatory agencies to forward their own agenda."
In a statement released following the announcement of the verdict, Bayer stated that it was disappointed with a decision "which conflicts directly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s interim registration review decision released just last month."
It added that there is a "consensus among leading health regulators worldwide that glyphosate-based products can be used safely and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic."