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Two and a half years ago, when St. Louis federal district court judge Catherine Perry refused to certify a class of farmers suing Bayer CropScience over alleged contamination from genetically modified rice, she created an 8,000-plaintiff mass tort that would be daunting for even the most committed plaintiffs lawyer to litigate. But as we’ve reported, since December 2009 the farmers’ lawyers at Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz and Gray Ritter & Graham have won jury verdicts or reached settlements in all of the cases that have made it to trial. And on Wednesday, in the first federal case scheduled for trial after a series of four bellwether trials, Bayer agreed to a settlement with four Mississippi rice farmers for $873,000. The plaintiffs in this multi-district litigation are long-grain rice farmers in five southern states, along with a few dozen rice buyers, exporters, millers, and other businesses. They allege that Bayer permitted at least two experimental genetically-modified rice strains that were not approved for human consumption to contaminate non-GM rice in 2006, leading to devastating losses for U.S. rice producers. Bayer is represented by lead counsel from Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott. Don Downing of the Gray Ritter firm in St. Louis, who is co-lead counsel in the MDL with Wolf Haldenstein’s Adam Levitt, told us that Wednesday’s deal brought the plaintiffs one step closer to a global settlement with Bayer. “We will continue to fight these cases one by one until Bayer offers what we consider to be a fair amount to settle all of them,” Downing said. In the first three bellwether trials the plaintiffs won compensatory damages of between $500,000 and $2 million. The last bellwether case settled for $290,000 in October, after one week of trial. The plaintiffs have also won three state court trials in Arkansas outside the bellwether process, including two jury verdicts awarding punitive damages. Levitt of Wolf Haldenstein told us that both settlement agreements the plaintiffs have reached so far include clauses permitting them to receive more from Bayer as part of a global settlement. Judge Perry has scheduled the next federal trial in the MDL for May in St.Louis, and she is set to begin remanding cases to other states for trial later this year. We left a message with Bayer lawyer Mark Ferguson of Bartlit Beck, but we didn’t hear back.

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