Bloomberg reported on Tue (14 May) that Bayer AG was ordered to pay more than US$2 billion in damages to a Californian couple that claimed they got cancer as a result of using its Roundup weedkiller for about three decades.

The jury agreed that Alva and Alberta Pilliod’s exposure to Roundup used for residential landscaping was a “substantial factor” in their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In addition to US$1 billion for each spouse, the jury awarded damages of about US$55 million for the couple’s medical bills and pain and suffering. After the verdict, the couple’s lawyer said the evidence showed that “from day one, Monsanto (Bayer’s subsidiary) has never had any interest in finding out whether Roundup is safe.”

This is the 3rd trial Bayer has lost over the Roundup debacle. It’s also the largest jury award in the U.S. so far this year.

Bayer lost the first trial in Aug last year when a California state court ruled that Roundup caused the terminal cancer of Dewayne Johnson, a former school groundskeeper. In Mr Johnson’s case, the jury found Monsanto had “acted with malice or oppression” and awarded him US$289 million in damages. The damages were later reduced to US$78 million.

It lost the 2nd trial in March at a federal court, which ruled that Roundup was responsible for a Mr Hardeman’s cancer. During the trial, the 70-year-old testified that he had use the weed killer for a long period of time and at one time got it on his skin before he was diagnosed with cancer. The jury decided to award US$80 million to the victim and was perturbed that the company did not warn the plaintiff of the herbicide’s alleged cancer risks.

Roundup was produced by Bayer’s subsidiary Monsanto. In fact, it was Singapore’s Temasek Holdings which helped Bayer acquire Monsanto. It was reported in Apr last year that Bayer sold 3.6 per cent stake to Temasek for 3 billion euros at 96.77 euros per share. The money was used as part of Bayer’s plan to takeover Monsanto.

Together with its existing holding in Bayer, Temasek would then own about 4 percent in Bayer after the transaction. By Jun last year, with Temasek’s help, Bayer successfully acquired Monsanto to become the biggest seed and agricultural chemical maker in the world.

Bayer’s share price sinking

Not surprisingly, Bayer share price dropped. It has been steadily sinking since the first adverse verdict in the Roundup lawsuit was announced last August. As of yesterday (15 May), Bayer’s share price closed at 56.45 euros. Since Temasek bought 3 billion euros worth of shares at 96.77 euros in Apr last year, that means it has lost 40.32 euros per share or 41.7% of the 3 billion euros investment.

Analysts at Bloomberg Intelligence raised their estimate for a potential settlement value to as much as $10 billion, up from a peak of $6 billion.

“The company has got to come to the table with a viable plan to resolve these cases, or the losses are going to mount,” Micah Dortch, managing partner at the Potts Law Firm in Dallas who has filed dozens of Roundup cases, said. “This outcome should make Monsanto realize the seriousness of these claims and how a jury perceives the evidence.”

During the 3rd trial, when the company’s lawyer asked a juror after the verdict what the panel wanted to hear from Bayer, the juror responded that he wanted proof the chemical was safe: “I wanted you to get up and drink it.”

There are now more than 13,400 people want to sue Bayer and its subsidiary Monsanto.

“The verdict in this trial has no impact on future cases and trials, as each one has its own factual and legal circumstances,” Bayer said. It continues to defend the safety of Roundup’s active ingredient glyphosate since inheriting the product from Monsanto.

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