It’s finally happened. Bayer is reaching into the bank account and paying up. The tech giant, which acquired Monsanto, is settling the majority of pending and future claims against it related to glyphosate. The settlement amount is expected to be between $10 billion and $11 billion.
The claims — all roughly 125,000 of them — are essentially the same. The plaintiffs claim that they used Roundup, with glyphosate as its active ingredient. The plaintiffs say exposure to glyphosate caused them to develop cancer, specifically Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The plaintiffs also allege that Monsanto knew glyphosate caused cancer and purposefully hid it from regulatory agencies.
It isn’t surprising that Bayer decided to settle; it was losing in court. Terribly. Multiple juries have listened to the evidence, deliberated, and returned multi-million dollar verdicts for the plaintiffs. My understanding is that the plaintiffs’ attorneys acquired an email from Monsanto employees that made is seem like the plaintiffs’ cases were plausible. So Bayer lost over and over again.
So, no, a settlement isn’t surprising from a legal perspective. Large law firms saw a wealthy punching bag and dropped a lot of money to drum up new clients. And Bayer saw the writing on the wall; thousands of multi-million dollar lawsuits wouldn’t be good for the bottom line. Settlement was the logical solution.
Yet I know that many of us will feel it was a miscarriage of justice. It probably was. Activists did a nice job of convincing the public that Roundup was capable of causing cancer. (For the record, there’s no scientific research to backup that conclusion.) They were after genetically modified crops. Roundup was just an easy target because of its close association with GMOs. So they turned a harmless, though effective, herbicide into the boogeyman.
Bayer’s decision reminds me of the advice I typically give my clients. Civil lawsuits aren’t about justice. You don’t initiate or defend one because it’s the right thing to do. You don’t litigate to prove yourself right. And you don’t litigate to prove the opposing party wrong. Litigation is more of a game, where both parties try to get their side of the story into evidence and sell a line to the jury.
That’s exactly what the early Roundup cases were: trial runs. Would the plaintiffs be successful at impressing the jury with their sob stories? Would Bayer find a way to excuse reckless employee emails? Which party’s expert would be more convincing? Bayer found its strategy wasn’t going to work.
There’s also a practical side to all of this, which is also linked to advice I give clients. You don’t spend $1,000 winning a $1 case. In other words, sometimes it’s more cost effective to throw money at your opponent and be done with it. Bayer had thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of dollars invested in each of these trials just for attorney’s fees. It’s equally likely that this settlement saves them money in the long run, not to mention keeping its investors happy.
But maybe it’s best to end on a positive note, so I’ll try. This settlement should be the beginning of the end. There reportedly won’t be any more jury trials that make big headlines. The obnoxious advertising for lawyers looking for new clients should end. Bayer has said it will continue to sell Roundup. And a federal judge decided the product doesn’t have to include the cancer-warning label that the state of California was pushing for.
Most importantly, the end of this nonsense is around the corner. I can’t wait to see where activists draw the next line in the sand. I hope this time we’ll be more successful.
Amanda Zaluckyj blogs under the name The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Her goal is to promote farmers and tackle the misinformation swirling around the U.S. food industry.