(CN) – A federal jury on Tuesday unanimously found that Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer caused a California man’s cancer, advancing his high-stakes San Francisco trial to a second phase to decide whether the agrochemical company is liable for his illness and how much it might owe for selling him a carcinogenic product.
The six-person jury found plaintiff Edwin Hardeman, 70, proved by a preponderance of the evidence that 26 years of heavy Roundup use was a “substantial factor” in causing his non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Hardeman, who has been in near-remission since undergoing chemotherapy in 2015, used Roundup to combat poison oak on his 56-acre property in Forestville, California. During trial, his expert pathologist testified Hardeman sprayed an estimated 5,900 gallons of Roundup and was exposed to the herbicide over 300 times without wearing protective clothing or equipment – increasing his risk for developing cancer.
Monsanto, acquired in 2018 by German pharmaceutical company Bayer, argued Hardeman’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma was caused by a chronic hepatitis C infection, exposure to hepatitis B and advancing age, all risk factors for the disease.
Outside the courtroom after the verdict on causation was read, Hardeman’s attorney Jennifer Moore said, “”This has been a long time coming for Mr. Hardeman. He’s very pleased he had his day in court and we’re looking forward to Phase 2.”
Wednesday’s verdict is a blow to Monsanto, advancing Hardeman’s claims to a second round of trial to decide the company’s liability and potentially how much it should fork over in damages. The jury’s finding on causation alone could prompt the company to reconsider settling with thousands of other non-Hodgkin lymphoma plaintiffs who sued it after the World Health Organization’s cancer research arm in 2015 classified Roundup’s active ingredient as a probable human carcinogen.
It is also possible that the jury could find Monsanto not liable during this second phase of trial because its conduct and product label were adequate.
In a statement posted to Twitter, Bayer US said it is disappointed by the jury’s decision but stands behind the science it says “confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer.” The company added it believes “the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto’s conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman’s cancer.”
Moore and Aimee Wagstaff of Andrus Wagstaff said in a statement after the verdict that they will now focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup.”
They added: “Instead, it is clear from Monsanto’s actions that it does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue. We look forward to presenting this evidence to the jury and holding Monsanto accountable for its bad conduct.”
Hardeman’s trial is the first of three bellwether trials, or test trials, scheduled this year before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco. The bellwether trials are meant to determine future litigation strategy, including whether to settle the remaining cases.
During Hardeman’s proceedings, Chhabria suggested “pushing the pause button” after verdicts are delivered in the three bellwethers to “allow both sides to sort of figure it out how they want to approach settlement issues.”
This past August, a state court jury awarded a San Francisco Bay Area groundskeeper with terminal lymphoma $289 million in damages. While a judge later reduced the award to $78 million, the historic verdict could still play into any settlement discussion.
But whether Monsanto will concede to settlement negotiations right now is an open question. Because the federal San Francisco cases were chosen for bellwether trials based on plaintiff residency requirements and not on traditional bellwether criteria like similar plaintiff profiles, Monsanto doesn’t consider them test cases sufficient for determining settlement strategy.
Opening statements in the second phase of Hardeman’s trial begin Wednesday.