Many jurors who listened to weeks of testimony and evidence linking Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup to devastating cases of cancer haven’t been able to put the trial behind them. Some of them, alarmed and concerned about the risks of Roundup, and Monsanto’s dubious corporate agenda in pushing the product, have remained engaged in the ongoing legal fights brought by people facing life-threatening illness allegedly caused by years of Roundup use and exposure.
A few former jurors have even taken on activist roles since trial, hoping to raise awareness about the dangers of the glyphosate herbicide and the agricultural industry Monsanto built around it.
Robert Howard served as a juror in the first Monsanto case to be tried. Brought by Dewayne Johnson, a former Bay Area groundskeeper in the advanced stages of terminal cancer, that case resulted in a $289 million judgment against Monsanto. Mr. Howard and his fellow jurors felt so strongly that Monsanto’s actions and its blockbuster weedkiller were to blame for Mr. Johnson’s failing health that $250 million of the judgment was earmarked as punitive damages.
But when California Superior Court Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos indicated she was open to paring down the punitive damages, Mr. Howard felt compelled to act. He wrote the judge a letter asking her to reconsider. He told Law360 that he was “a little devastated” by the judge’s decision and felt it was his civic duty to speak up.
Mr. Howard now blogs about Monsanto, Roundup, and the two other lawsuits against the Bayer-owned company that have been tried so far, both of which ended with substantial victories for the plaintiffs: An $80 million verdict for plaintiff Ed Hardeman and a $2 billion verdict for Alva and Alberta Pilliod.
According to Law360, Mr. Howard says in a recent blog that Monsanto “is literally using an entire planet as a guinea pig for a fraudulently tested weedkiller.”
Roy Futterman of the litigation consulting firm DOAR told Law360 that the level of involvement from jurors after their service in the Monsanto trials is unusual and significant.
“It’s a beautiful outcome for a plaintiff’s attorney to have jurors still aroused, still interested in preserving their verdict. The counterpoint to that is it’s a bad omen for Monsanto going forward to know how much these jurors really took it to heart,” he told Law360. “I would be terrified if I were Monsanto.”
So why are so many former jurors still concerned about Monsanto, now a unit of the German conglomerate Bayer, and its glyphosate products?
It’s likely because after reviewing the evidence presented at trial, they developed a clear picture of how widespread Roundup use threatens them, their children, and their grandchildren. Hundreds of studies raise red flags that Roundup may be carcinogenic to humans, and in 2016 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen.”
Roundup can enter the body through skin absorption, inhalation, or ingestion of food made with crops genetically modified to withstand Roundup treatments (GMOs). Studies have shown that most people in the U.S. have glyphosate in their bodies.
But the trials also produced emails, internal records and other strong evidence indicating Monsanto steered the Roundup safety debate by downplaying the correlation between glyphosate and lymphoma, ghostwriting pro-Roundup studies, and working with some scientists and government regulators to beat back government efforts to review glyphosate’s impact on human health amid a growing body of independent research pointing to the contrary.
Of course, Monsanto has accused jurors like Mr. Howard of being biased against Roundup even before the Johnson trial, despite efforts to select jurors who were unbiased and open-minded. Mr. Howard told Law360 he went into the Johnson trial with an open mind, but seeing the scientific evidence at trial was “a real wake-up call” for him.
A lawyer for Mr. Hardeman told Law360 that it wasn’t surprising that jurors stayed involved in the case considering the importance of the case and the amount of time the jurors spent at trial and in deliberation. She said the juror’s ongoing involvement is a reaction to Monsanto’s “own misconduct over the last 40 years.”
“I don’t think it’s unusual for people who devoted a month of their lives to want to know what’s happening in the case they rendered a decision in,” she told Law360. “All six jurors in the Hardeman case took it very seriously. They took extensive notes and deliberated for several days.”
As for Mr. Howard, he explained his ongoing concern in his letter to Judge Bolanos. “It is just what happens when jurors find evidence of such egregious behavior by a company that they feel it is their civic duty to speak out and support their verdicts in the hope the company will be compelled to change its behavior.”
Beasley Allen is investigating cases involving non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma related to the commercial application of Roundup/glyphosate. For more information, contact John Tomlinson or Rhon Jones in our Toxic Torts Section.
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