Is Bayer having buyer's regret over its recent acquisition of Monsanto? It should be. For the third time in less than a year, a jury has awarded a hefty amount to plaintiffs who claim they developed non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) from using the glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup.
The plaintiffs in the most recent case were a married couple from the San Francisco area, both of whom are in their 70s and were diagnosed with NHL. They reported having used Roundup for 35 years and were diagnosed within four years of each other.
The first jury verdict was in favor of a former groundskeeper for a school district northeast of Oakland in August 2018. The plaintiff was awarded $289 million. The second jury trial was an $80 million judgment against Bayer.
This time, the jury awarded the couple a whopping $2 billion in punitive damages on top of $55 million in compensatory damages. While the punitive damages are likely to be reduced on appeal (California caps punitive damage awards to five times the amount of compensatory damages), this most recent verdict sends a strong message.
It is a message that shareholders are starting to demand that Bayer listens to. The German-based company's shares have fallen by 30 percent in the wake of the two previous verdicts. Since mid-March, Bayer's stock value has tumbled from nearly $82 per share to under $64. Bayer, like Monsanto, is a company with a checkered past. In taking over Monsanto, Bayer executives thought such diversification would add stability to its pharmaceutical business. Instead, it has exposed the company to potentially limitless liability – and investors have not been happy.
Currently, there are approximately 13,400 glyphosate claims pending against Bayer – up 20 percent since January. Some investors are pressuring the company to reach a global settlement – but that is unlikely to happen until the appeals process has run its course, something that could take years. In addition, large corporations facing such liability often take several more cases to trial before making the decision of whether or not to settle.
So...how is this likely to play out?
Bayer's own hubris may force it into settlement discussions. The corporate miscreant continues to insist that Roundup is completely safe when used according to directions. It continues to sell the product and refuses to add a cancer warning label – meaning that a limitless number of plaintiffs could bring claims in the future. In a recent letter to shareholders, Bayer CEO Werner Baumann refuses to consider that buying out Monsanto might have been a big mistake, saying that his company's decision to acquire Monsanto “...was and is the right step.”
Right now, the clock is ticking for Bayer. The next case to go to trial will begin this coming August, and the corporate defendant will need to either rethink its legal strategy, reconsider its position on settling some or all of the pending claims or come up with some other way to appease its shareholders. One possible game-changer is the venue. The upcoming trial will be held in St. Louis, Missouri, Monsanto's former home turf where Bayer's Crop Science division currently maintains its U.S. headquarters.