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Bayer Wins Second Jury Verdict in California Roundup Trial (3)

Dec. 10, 2021, 8:15 AM

Bayer AG won a second consecutive trial in California over its top-selling Roundup weedkiller as a jury rejected a woman’s claim that it caused her cancer.

The verdict Thursday in state court in San Bernardino follows a Los Angeles jury’s Oct. 5 decision rejecting a mother’s claim that her young son developed cancer from exposure to the herbicide in the family’s yard.

Bayer shares rose as much as 2.6% early Friday in Frankfurt, but they’re little changed over the past 12 months.

Bayer’s Monsanto unit previously lost all three cases that went to trial in California staring in 2018, and failed to get any of the verdicts overturned on appeal. It’s now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review and throw out one of the losses in hopes of managing current and future legal claims targeting the product.

In the San Bernardino case, Donnetta Stephens, 70, claimed she developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after using Roundup for more than 30 years in her yard. Stephens was diagnosed with cancer in 2017 and won a fast-tracked trial after her health began to fail, according to court filings.

“The jury’s verdict in favor of the company brings this trial to a successful conclusion and is consistent with the evidence in this case that Roundup is not the cause of Ms. Stephens’ cancer,” Bayer said in a statement, adding that it nonetheless sympathizes with Stephens.

Fletch Trammell, Stephens’ lawyer, said technical difficulties in getting the case before jurors hurt his presentation. Judge Gilbert Ochoa began the trial in his courtroom, but after a Covid-19 outbreak, he ordered lawyers to present their cases over Zoom. “We will appeal and look forward to trying the case again under better circumstances,” Trammell said in an email.

The verdict comes as Bayer officials brace to hear whether the nation’s highest court will take its appeal in a Roundup case that could help the company fend off thousands of Roundup suits if it wins. The justices are scheduled to discuss Bayer’s pending appeal at a private conference on Friday.

Bayer, which already set aside more than $11 billion to resolve Roundup suits, is prepared to add another $4.5 billion to its reserve if the Supreme Court refuses to review a $25 million award to a California plaintiff. It wants the high court to find federal herbicide regulations trump -- or preempt -- state regulatory requirements. The company’s lawyers believe such a ruling would go a long way to dissuade future Roundup suits.

It’s a long-shot strategy, as legal experts note the high court takes fewer than 5% of appeal requests. “We believe the U.S. Supreme Court should give strong consideration to accepting our petition to review” the case “and render a positive ruling,” Bayer Chairman Werner Bauman said earlier this year.

Bayer, which has steadfastly maintained Roundup doesn’t cause cancer, announced in July it will pull the current version of the weedkiller off the U.S. consumer market in 2023. Bayer inherited the litigation with its 2018 acquisition of Monsanto, which has produced the weed killer for decades.

The case is Stephens v. Monsanto, CGC-20-58576411//CIVSB-2104801, California Superior Court, San Bernardino County.

(Updates with shares in third paragraph)

--With assistance from Greg Stohr.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Jef Feeley in Wilmington, Delaware at jfeeley@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Katia Porzecanski at kporzecansk1@bloomberg.net

Joe Schneider, Peter Blumberg

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.