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Supreme Court Upholds Roundup Lawsuit Verdicts

The Supreme Court has rejected two bids from Bayer to stop lawsuits alleging that the company failed to warn the public about the health risks associated with weed killer Roundup. Bayer is facing thousands of Roundup lawsuits that claim the popular herbicide causes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers. The court’s refusal to hear the appeals is a setback for the manufacturer and a significant victory for those who say they developed cancer after Roundup exposure.

Edwin Hardeman, a 73-year-old Californian, brought one of the cases. Hardeman used Roundup to treat poison oak and weeds at his home for years and was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015. He sued the company the following year, and a jury awarded him $80 million. A judge later reduced the damages to $25 million.

Bayer appealed to the Supreme Court after a federal court upheld Hardeman’s reward. The justices decided against hearing the appeal and effectively upheld the current verdict on June 21. The Supreme Court hears only about 1% of the petitions it receives yearly.

The other case involved an $87 million verdict in favor of Alberta and Alva Pilliod, a couple who both developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after using Roundup for decades. The Pilliods were initially awarded $2 billion, which a judge later reduced to $87 million. $70 million of the award is punitive damages, which Bayer has argued is unconstitutional. 

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It’s promising news for potential plaintiffs, but the outcomes of Roundup-related court cases have been mixed. Bayer has won the last four Roundup trials and has repeatedly said there isn’t sufficient evidence linking the weedkiller to cancer. The company plans to continue appealing rulings in hopes of a Supreme Court case, although it has set aside $4.5 billion for future Roundup settlements.

President Biden’s administration urged the court to reject Bayer’s appeal, a change from former President Trump’s position that the justices should hear the appeal.

Roundup Safety Questions

Roundup has been the go-to herbicide for farmers and consumers since Monsanto introduced it to the market in the 1970s. Bayer acquired Monsanto in 2018. The weedkiller works well because of its active ingredient, glyphosate, which inhibits an enzyme responsible for plant growth and other processes. Along with being effective, Roundup is relatively affordable and readily available at home and garden stores. The herbicide is commonly used on home lawns, crops, and industrial areas.

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Researchers have recently cautioned about a potential link between Roundup and adverse health risks. One study found that glyphosate exposure increased the risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma by 41%. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified the chemical as probably carcinogenic to humans. The finding later came into question after an investigation revealed that the agency ignored data that showed no association between glyphosate and cancer.

In 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that glyphosate wasn’t a carcinogen and didn’t pose health risks to humans. Still, the agency was recently ordered by a federal court to reassess its stance. Countries in the Middle East, Europe, and South America have all banned the herbicide. Bayer has announced that it plans to phase out glyphosate in residential herbicides beginning next year, but glyphosate-based products will still be available to agricultural customers.

The Future of Roundup Lawsuits

Many of those suing Bayer claim that the pharmaceutical company had a duty to warn consumers about the risks associated with Roundup exposure. Bayer argues that it had no reason to include an on-label message when the EPA doesn’t classify the chemical as carcinogenic. The EPA blocked California regulators from adding a cancer warning to Roundup three years ago.

Regardless, plaintiffs are still seeing positive outcomes. Earlier this week, an appeals court allowed a Georgia man to move forward with a lawsuit against the company. John Carson alleges that he developed malignant fibrous histiocytoma, a rare type of soft tissue cancer, after using Roundup for 30 years. Bayer argued that federal law shielded it from claims like Carson’s, which the court rejected. The company will continue to appeal Roundup lawsuits in hopes of the Supreme Court stopping the litigation. However, those sick after Roundup exposure still have an opportunity to recover damages.