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Bayer granted request to move some glyphosate trials out of California

A federal judge in the US state of California has agreed to Bayer's request to move one of the next trials related to the safety of legacy company Monsanto's glyphosate-based herbicides to Nebraska.

A federal judge in the US state of California has agreed to Bayer‘s request to move one of the next trials related to the safety of legacy company Monsanto‘s glyphosate-based herbicides to Nebraska.

The company is keen to see how it fares outside of California, where losses in the first three trials have resulted in huge damages being incurred to cancer victims. They won damages after courts found that exposure to Monsanto‘s Roundup herbicides had caused their illnesses.

A state jury in San Francisco, California awarded a former school groundskeeper $275 million last August and a second state jury in neighbouring Oakland awarded an elderly couple $2 billion in damages in May. In between, a federal jury convened in San Francisco handed down an $80 million verdict against Monsanto. All three cases found that exposure to glyphosate played a substantial role in causing the plaintiffs‘ cancers and found Monsanto should have warned consumers of the cancer risks from its herbicides.

US District Judge Vince Chhabria, who is overseeing more than 1,200 federal complaints consolidated in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, has called on Bayer to mediate the federal cases and consider settling the remaining claims.

Bayer, which also faces thousands of lawsuits in state courts, has appealed all three rulings. The next federal trial is planned for San Francisco in February and Judge Chhabria intends to refer several other complaints to other federal courts in California. In an order issued June 14th, he agreed that this “first wave” of cases should be heard in California while five similar complaints will be sent back to the US District Court for the District of Nebraska. Hearings in those cases will begin in the autumn.

The second wave will consist of trials transferred back to federal courts in their home districts. The plaintiffs have chosen Illinois while Bayer has opted for North Carolina. 

The decision is a win for Bayer, which has suffered financially from the jury verdicts amid lingering public concern about Monsanto‘s glyphosate herbicides and the company‘s past conduct.

Bayer purchased Monsanto for some $63 billion last year, but the group’s stock has dropped more than 40% since the first ruling last August, a decrease equalling some $40 billion in value.

In its request last month to move the forthcoming round of trials to a different state, Bayer called California a “poor candidate to be the sole source of preliminary information” about litigation that spans 66 jurisdictions.

“Focusing so heavily on California plaintiffs in this otherwise national litigation will not provide a representative sample from which the parties can value and evaluate the litigation,” Bayer said in its May 29th filing with Judge Chhabria.

The company pointed to California‘s controversial Prop. 65 law, which requires warning labels on a long list of products that contain chemicals that major jurisdictions have found to pose risks of cancer or reproductive harm.  The law means California residents see cancer warnings lrdquo;on an abundance of items” that do not require such labels in other jurisdictions, “distorting juror‘s views of when and why cancer warnings are warranted", according to Bayer.

The company noted that California does not cap non-economic damages or limit punitive damages awards and adds that courts in California are required by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to show “greater deference to experts in close cases” than other jurisdictions.

Bayer argued that the state‘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”.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs called on Judge Chhabria to ignore Bayer‘s request, arguing that the company had failed to justify remand of the Nebraska and North Carolina cases.

“Monsanto overstates the necessity of remand to other jurisdictions in order to evaluate the nature and strength of the claims,” the plaintiffs said in their filing last month.

They noted that Judge Chhabria had called California “a very diverse state” adding that pending state trials in Missouri would also provide information to evaluate the claims.

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