Bayer reaches $10 billion settlement in Roundup cancer lawsuits

David Brancaccio, Scott Tong, and Alex Schroeder Jun 25, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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The herbicide Roundup has been a blockbuster weedkiller, but plaintiffs say it causes a certain cancer and several juries have agreed. Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

Bayer reaches $10 billion settlement in Roundup cancer lawsuits

David Brancaccio, Scott Tong, and Alex Schroeder Jun 25, 2020
The herbicide Roundup has been a blockbuster weedkiller, but plaintiffs say it causes a certain cancer and several juries have agreed. Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images
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One of the largest product-liability settlements ever is taking shape. The herbicide Roundup has been a blockbuster weedkiller, but plaintiffs say it causes a certain cancer and several juries have agreed.

Now Bayer, which acquired Roundup maker Monsanto, has a $10 billion deal to try to settle all claims, present and future. But the question is whether this will be an enduring peace.

Marketplace’s Scott Tong has the story. He spoke with “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio and the following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

David Brancaccio: What brought the two sides together?

Scott Tong: For the plaintiffs, we’re talking about 95,000 of them, this amount of money north of $10 billion is one of the largest ever in a product-liability settlement. And for Bayer, which acquired Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, it’s been losing in court, which is always a motivator, says Stanford law professor Nora Engstrom. We spoke yesterday:

“When juries find the evidence to be compelling, when the diseases are serious and they find real culpable behavior on behalf of defendants, that’s when you start seeing zeros at the settlement table.”

Brancaccio: Now what’s the plan here to get all of the plaintiffs to say, “OK, we’re willing to cut a deal and move on”?

Tong: This is a novel way to try to bring in everybody, a now and tomorrow deal. And that is for Bayer to settle with the big law firms representing the plaintiffs.

Elizabeth Burch, who teaches law at the University of Georgia, tells me this is similar to the Vioxx painkiller settlement more than a decade ago:

“They essentially buy the plaintiff lawyers off the market and say, ‘Look, we’re going to settle your entire group of cases, and in return you tell us you have no intention to represent future Roundup plaintiffs.'”

What’s unclear is how many plaintiffs might still sue. Lawyers representing about 25,000 of them are not settling, for now. And Roundup’s going to stay on the market, so more people will be exposed to it. Bayer is setting up a science-based process for future cases, but right now it’s iffy how much closure this really delivers.

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