A federal jury has awarded $218 million to 7,300 farmers in Kansas who brought a class action alleging Syngenta AG was negligent in selling a genetically modified strain of corn seed that it knew would produce corn China wouldn’t import.
Friday’s verdict is the first to come out of the multidistrict litigation against Syngenta over claims by U.S. corn producers that they lost more than $5 billion after China refused to import corn grown from the GMO seed.
The jury, which began hearing the case on June 5, deliberated for half a day before awarding $217.7 million in compensatory damages. Jurors awarded no punitive damages.
“They awarded 100 percent of the actual damages we asked for,” said Don Downing, one of the lead plaintiffs attorneys. “Obviously, we’re disappointed they didn’t approve punitive damages, but we look forward to raising that in future trials with future juries.”
Downing, of Gray, Ritter & Graham in St. Louis, Missouri, was co-lead plaintiffs counsel with Scott Powell of Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton in Birmingham, Alabama; Patrick Stueve of Stueve Siegel Hanson in Kansas City, Missouri; and William Chaney of Dallas-based Gray Reed & McGraw.
Syngenta vowed to appeal the verdict.
“We are disappointed with today’s verdict because it will only serve to deny American farmers access to future technologies even when they are fully approved in the U.S.,” the company said in an emailed statement. “American farmers shouldn’t have to rely on a foreign government to decide what products they can use on their farms.”
Syngenta was represented at trial by Kirkland & Ellis partners Robert “Mike” Brock and Michael Jones, both in Washington, and Thomas Schult, a partner at Berkowitz Oliver in Kansas City, Missouri.
Corn prices plummeted in the United States in 2013 after China stopped importing the corn seed. Downing said his team had two economic experts at trial who calculated estimated damages for the Kansas class members based on the price per bushel of corn impacted over the past five years.
Other class actions have been certified on behalf of farmers in Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota. Class actions on behalf of more than a dozen other states are seeking certification.
China National Chemical Corp., or ChemChina, has announced plans to buy Swiss-based Syngenta for $43 billion.
Contact Amanda Bronstad at email@example.com. On Twitter: @abronstadlaw.