Lawyers on opposite sides of a lawsuit claiming that Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller causes cancer took turns calling each other’s take on the case “offensive” during closing arguments Tuesday morning in San Francisco federal court.
Jennifer Moore of Moore Law Group—one of the lawyers for Northern California man Edwin Hardeman who developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after about two decades of using Roundup to kill weeds on his 56-acre property—said that it was “reckless” and “offensive” for a Monsanto representative to say there “no evidence across the board” linking Roundup to cancer. Moore pointed to about 30 separate studies published prior to her client’s 2015 cancer diagnosis that raised flags about exposure to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.
Moore said that although Monsanto’s former CEO, Hugh Grant testified that the company had an annual research and development budget of $1.5 billion, the company had spent nothing on long-term epidemiological studies of Roundup use or certain lab tests she argued were needed to prove the product’s safety.
“That ladies and gentlemen is offensive,” Moore said. “When you put a product on the market from 1975 to 2012 and you know that product causes cancer and you do it anyway, you deprive a consumer like Mr. Hardeman of a choice.”
Monsanto’s lead lawyer, Brian Stekloff of Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz, meanwhile, took aim at one of Moore’s closing slides midway through his closing, The slide had quoted an internal company email as saying “(the good ol’ Monsanto way of doing things – give people $$)” when the full email actually said the “(the good ol’ Monsanto way of doing things – give people an extra job).” The slide, Stekloff argued, was indicative of Hardeman’s lawyers avoiding telling “the whole story.”
“It is offensive to misquote and put on a slide and the ‘good ol’ Monsanto way’ is to give people money,” Stekloff said. Stekloff said Moore was essentially asking jurors to believe that Monsanto employees drop their kids off at school, drive to the company’s St. Louis headquarters and “then say ‘You know what, we’re going to engage in a conspiracy to give people cancer.’ ”
“ That’s what they’re asking you to [believe] and that’s outrageous,” said Stekloff, noting that all the company’s employees who testified use Roundup at home around their families and pets.
Trial in Hardeman’s case, the first bellwether to go before a jury in multidistrict litigation against Monsanto, has been ongoing since Feb. 25. One week of that time was consumed by jury deliberations after the first science-heavy phase of the bifurcated trial. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, who has been overseeing the Roundup MDL, split the trial into phases to first consider whether plaintiffs could prove that Roundup use was a “substantial factor” in Hardeman’s cancer.
After the jury answered yes to that question, the trial moved on to a second phase to consider whether Monsanto should be held responsible for Hardeman’s harm. The jury is being asked to determine whether Roundup had a design defect, if Monsanto acted reasonably in selling and marketing Monsanto in light of the scientific evidence and whether the product should have included a warning label during the time that Hardeman was using it. If Monsanto is found liable on any one of those grounds by a preponderance of the evidence, the jury can award economic damages—which the parties have stipulated are about $200,000 for Hardeman’s medical expenses—and non-economic damages. Moore asked the jury to award her client one million for each of the years since his 2015 cancer diagnosis and another $1 million for the next $15 million.
If jurors find clear and convincing evidence that Monsanto is liable on any ground, they can also award punitive damages. Moore on Tuesday didn’t specify an amount for punitives, but she did remind jurors that Monsanto was sold to Bayer AG last year for $63 billion, when Monsanto had a net worth of $7.8 billion and $2.4 billion in cash-on-hand. She urged jurors send a “loud message” to the company.
“Nothing has stopped the company and that’s because the only thing that matters to them is their greed,” she said.
Stekloff responded that Monsanto shouldn’t be held liable, especially at the higher burden of proof needed to award punitive damages. Monsanto has done decades of its own testing and handed over all its raw data regarding Roundup and glyphosate to regulators, he said. No regulator world-wide had found Roundup was a carcinogen or should include a warning label during the time Hardeman was using the product, he argued.
“Monsanto believed in the science. Monsanto followed the regulators,” Stekloff said.
The stakes are significant for Monsanto, which last year was hit with a $289 million verdict in San Francisco Superior Court in a Roundup case outside the MDL proceedings. The state court judge overseeing that case, however, slashed the award by more than $200 million. Openings are also set for Thursday in Alameda Superior Court in a separate Roundup case against Monsanto.