John F. Queeny founded Monsanto in 1901 to manufacture saccharine; he named the company after Olga Monsanto Queeny, his wife. Monsanto later started producing PCBs, chemicals that it would regret ever having manufactured. The range of products grew to herbicides with Roundup becoming the top seller worldwide. Unfortunately, Roundup would also be the cause of its woes to date as it continues to battle cases associated with the herbicide.
Although Monsanto was acquired by Bayer, the parent company has had to deal with the backlog of lawsuits lodged against Monsanto. Bader’s Monsanto purchase was even considered by most analysts the worst mistake Bayer could ever make, with each Roundup verdict costing it billions of dollars. The parent company foresaw more losses and even set aside money to settle the cases that kept coming.
That said, here are the ten biggest Monsanto lawsuits in company history.
10. United States of America v. Monsanto – $12 Million
The United States Attorney’s Office (USAO) for the Central District of California acted as the Special Attorney in the District of Hawaii in a case against Monsanto. The company sold Forfeit 280, a glufosinate-ammonium-based product in Hawaii. It was used in Oahu cornfields, and Monsanto still allowed workers to enter the cornfields 30 times within the restricted-entry interval of six days. As a result, it was found guilty of 30 misdemeanor crimes. Monsanto pled guilty and agreed to the $12 million- $ 6 million in community service payments and $ 6 million in criminal fines.
9. Bader Farms, Inc. v. Monsanto – $15 Million
Monsanto and BASF Corporation collaborated to manufacture dicamba-resistant seeds, which Bader Farms bought. Dicamba herbicide was known for its volatility and the defendants should have formulated a less volatile herbicide to be used with the dicamba-tolerant seeds. However, Monsanto released the dicamba-tolerant seeds in 2015 without an accompanying less volatile herbicide, resulting in farmers using the old formulation of dicamba.
The old herbicide was prone to drift and would cause damage to neighboring non-tolerant plants. It was allegedly a strategy to increase demand for the dicamba-tolerant seeds since neighboring farmers had to buy them to prevent damage from the drifting herbicide. The plaintiff’s 1000-acre farm was destroyed by the herbicide which drifted onto the trees and nearby farms.
The jury reached a verdict after three weeks of trial and awarded Bayer Farms $15 million in actual damages and $250 million in punitive damages. A judge later reduced the punitive damages to $60 million, but Monsanto fought for the punitive damages to be scrapped. In July 2022, the Court of Appeal found in favor of the defendants and dismissed the punitive damages leaving Bader Farms with the $15 million the jury had handed them in actual damages.
8. The District of Columbia v. Monsanto co, Solutia Inc., and Pharmacia LLC. – $52 Million
On May 7, 2020, Attorney General Karl A. Racine filed a lawsuit on behalf of the District of Columbia, claiming that the defendants had been manufacturing, selling, and promoting chemicals they knew were toxic to wildlife and humans and polluted waterways. Monsanto had been producing PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls) for 50 years and failed to warn the public against the health risks that included liver damage and cancer.
Although PCBs were banned in 1979, they remained persistent in waterways and continued affecting fish and wildlife. Restoration of the natural resources would cost hundreds of millions of dollars; thus, Racine sought to have Monsanto pay for the present, past, and future costs linked with PCB contamination. In July 2020, the parties agreed to a $52 million settlement which Monsanto would deposit in an escrow account within 90 days, effective from the date of the ruling.
7. Johnson v. Monsanto – $78 Million
Dewayne Lee Johnson worked as a school groundskeeper, a job that would cost him his life, slowly. Johnson often used pesticides in his job although he did not like using the chemicals as he narrated to Time Magazine. He was right not to be fond of the chemicals because, in 2014, Johnson was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
It all started with an accident when the sprayer broke, drenching Johnson’s clothes with the diluted pesticide. Although he cleaned up and changed clothes immediately and later took a long shower, the plaintiff developed a rash that later turned into lesions.
He, therefore, sued Monsanto for the Roundup herbicide that caused cancer, claiming that the company should have warned buyers that the product contained carcinogenic compounds. During the trial, it was discovered that Roundup contained glyphosate, a human carcinogen. The jury found in Johnson’s favor and awarded him $289 million, but the judge later reduced the amount to $78 million.
6. Hardeman v. Monsanto – $80 Million
Edwin Hardeman had been using Roundup since the 1980s to treat poison, weeds, and overgrowth on his property in San Francisco Bay Area. He, therefore, sued Monsanto after he developed NHL (Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma), a type of cancer that affects lymphocytes. Since it affects the lymphatic system before spreading to other body parts and significantly compromises the patient’s immune system, it can be fatal in its later stages.
Hardeman developed swollen lymph nodes which he discovered on Christmas Day in 2014. Later, he was diagnosed with cancer that had progressed to stage three. It took him a while to learn about glyphosate being a carcinogen. Since it was the main ingredient in Roundup, he connected the dots and sued the company.
Monsanto probably knew about the cancer risk of its product; hence, it sought to prohibit the plaintiff’s attorney from raising allegations about its conduct. The judge approved Monsanto’s request, but still, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff, even without fully comprehending the science behind the chemical’s linkage to cancer risks. It was touted as a stunning victory and Hardeman was awarded $80 million in damages.
5. Pilliod v. Monsanto – $87 Million
Alva ad Alberta Pilliod used Roundup for over the 30 years they had been on their property in Livermore, San Francisco. Unfortunately, Alva was the first to be diagnosed with systemic NHL in 2011; it had already spread to his pelvis and spine. Four years later, Alberta was diagnosed with brain cancer. Monsanto insisted that its product was safe, and even tried distorting the science behind glyphosate and its association with cancer. The jury did not fall prey to the tactics and awarded the Pilliods $2 billion in punitive and compensatory damages.
Monsanto appealed the decision but instead, the judge reduced the punitive damages to $69.3 million about two weeks after the jury’s decision. Monsanto was still not satisfied and did not want to pay a dime, insisting on its innocence thus the company appealed again in February 2020. The Pilliods were also not happy with the reduction in the punitive damages and sought to be paid $575 million. In March 2002, Bayer, Monsanto’s parent company sought to have the case dismissed, arguing the safety of the weedkiller. However, the Supreme Court rejected the request and, instead ruled that the Pilliods receive $87 million.
4. Washington v. Monsanto – $95 Million
In December 2016, Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Monsanto seeking damages and clean-up costs linked with PCBs. Ferguson alleged that the company knew the PCBs were toxic to wildlife and humans, yet Monsanto was the only company producing them from 1935 to 1977. The Monsanto lawsuit claimed that PCBs presented a public nuisance, and were harmful to the health of humans and wildlife. The toxic compounds also obstructed the free use of state waters and public waters.
Monsanto was accused of hiding the dangers of PCBs to generate profits. Therefore, the Attorney General also sought to be awarded present and future costs to address the public nuisance, Monsanto fought hard for the case to be dismissed and moved to federal court. After three and half years, the company was ordered to pay $95 million, most of which would go to the state General Fund. The rest would pay the litigation expenses and fund the environmental protection exercise.
3. Erickson, et al v. Monsanto – $185 Million
Kelly Erickson, Michelle Leahy, Richard Leahy, and Marc Erickson were among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit accusing Monsanto of exposing them to dangerous levels of fluorescent material containing PCBs. The plaintiffs were teachers at Sky Valley Education Center and claimed to have suffered brain damage due to the exposure. The Monsanto lawsuit was the first of 22 trials that involved students, teachers, and parents who spent time at the Sky Valley Education Center.
Although Monsanto had not produced the PCBs for over four decades, the damage prevailed because of the millions of fluorescent lights that contain PCBs. Such lighting remains in schools and daycare centers, and it could cause cancer and other neurological illnesses.
The teachers were awarded $185 million although Monsanto claimed that the chemicals allegedly causing the brain damage were obsolete. The second successful lawsuit against Monsanto by the students, parents, and teachers resulted in a $62 million award. The third lawsuit was also successful, and Monsanto had to pay $21 million, while the fourth suit ended up in a mistrial. However, the fifth one was in favor of the plaintiffs, and Monsanto was ordered to pay $275 million – $55 million in compensatory damages and the rest in punitive damages. Monsanto however plans to appeal.
2. Re: Dicamba Herbicides MDL Litigation – $400 Million
According to St. Louis Business Journal, Bayer AG agreed to pay $300 million to Missouri farmers whose crops were damaged by dicamba. However, the amount was expected to reach $400 million once litigation expenses and other related costs were included. Still, in the settlement, there was a provision to protect the farmers if more than $300 million in claims were filed.
It all began with individual farmers filing lawsuits against Monsanto claiming that they had suffered crop damage after spraying the dicamba herbicide over adjacent crops that were dicamba-resistant. Monsanto had claimed that the seeds were dicamba-resistant and released them into the market but had not come up with a safer herbicide since the old dicamba was volatile. Consequently, the herbicide caused significant crop damage. Monsanto denied the allegations and opted to settle to reduce the litigation costs.
1. Passo Fundo Rural Union v. Monsanto – $7.7 Billion
In April 2009, the Brazilian Passo Fundo rural union filed a class action on behalf of Brazilian farmers, against Monsanto. The farmers felt that the royalties they had been paying Monsanto were unfair and illegal. The royalties in question were regarding genetically modified soybean seeds, the Roundup Ready. The seeds had become a favorite among Brazilian farmers because they were resistant to the herbicide, Roundup.
Although Brazilian farmers usually smuggled the patented Roundup Ready seeds from Argentina, the soybean yield represented about 75% of the total soya crop grown in Rio Grande do Sul. Monsanto, therefore, expected the farmers to pay the 2% royalties on the sale of its patented soybean seeds even if they were obtained illegally. Monsanto additionally charged 3% of farmers’ sales if the farmers used Roundup Ready seeds they had saved.
The farmers argued that they had every right to save seeds for replanting and Monsanto’s intellectual property rights should not be extended to Brazil. Further, the Passo Fundo leaders claimed that it was difficult to separate the Roundup Ready seeds from conventional seeds and that the farmers had begun acquiring the seeds legally. In 2012, a judge ruled in favor of the farmers and ordered Monsanto to cease collecting royalties and pay $2 billion or return all the royalties it had collected since 2004. Monsanto appealed the court’s ruling.
On October 9, 2019, the court determined that the Roundup Ready seeds were protected by domestic patent law. Consequently, farmers had no right to save the soybeans obtained from Roundup Ready harvest for replanting. Monsanto won the lawsuit and no longer had to pay the royalties it had been collecting since 2004 – they were estimated at $7.7 billion.
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