Bayer is poised for a reduction of 90% or more in the $2 billion verdict it was hit with in the most recent trial over its Roundup weedkiller.
After a jury concluded the company's herbicide caused cancer in a husband and wife, a California judge said in a tentative ruling late Thursday, July 18, that she's inclined to whack their 10-figure damage awards to about $250 million - or down as low as about $150 million - because they're beyond the limits allowed by legal precedent. That's in line with what experts predicted, and Bayer shares rose as much as 2.2% in early Frankfurt trading.
The German health-care and agricultural giant is set Friday to ask the judge to wipe out the verdict or grant a new trial in the Oakland case. The judge has tentatively rejected that request.
Even with the awards slashed, Bayer is still in trouble, said Anna Pavlik, senior counsel for special situations at United First Partners LLC in New York. More than 13,000 plaintiffs in the U.S. have sued Bayer, claiming Roundup causes cancer. The weedkiller was first marketed in the 1970s by St. Louis-based Monsanto Co., which was acquired by Bayer last year for $63 billion.
"As long as the per-plaintiff verdicts remain in the millions, the reductions in punitive damages still do not help Bayer when it is thinking about its ultimate litigation and settlement strategy," Pavlik said before the tentative ruling was issued. "Without any wins under its belt, Bayer is still facing enormous per-plaintiff payouts."
Meanwhile, dozens of new complaints are filed across the U.S. every month.
Bayer argued in a court filing that it deserves a new trial in the Oakland case due to misconduct by lawyers for the couple, Alva and Alberta Pilliod, that turned the courtroom "unnecessarily theatrical." To scare jurors, a lead trial lawyer wore gloves to handle a Roundup bottle, Bayer says, adding the panel remained confused even after the judge pointed out there was only water inside.
The lawyers also participated in photo opportunities outside the jury room with celebrities Neil Young and Daryl Hannah, who are anti-Monsanto activists, according to the filing.
Lawyers for the Pilliods denied that the gloves were a scare tactic and said in a filing that the judge "maintained a tight ship at trial and ensured that there was no undue prejudice to either party."
The $2 billion jury award was the largest in the U.S. this year and the eighth-largest ever in a product-defect claim, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Analysts' estimates for the costs to settle all the lawsuits Bayer faces in the U.S. range from about $2.5 billion to $20 billion.
This is article was written by Joel Rosenblatt, a reporter for Bloomberg.