Since first being introduced in the 1970s, Roundup became one of the most widely used weed killers in the country. Its main ingredient, glyphosate, was extremely effective, making it a popular choice for both agricultural and residential use. Roundup was so good at its job that its maker, Monsanto, began genetically engineering seeds, like corn, soybeans and sugar beets, to tolerate it.
But in 2015, health officials raised an alarm about the dangers of glyphosate in Roundup and other weed killers. Years of peer-reviewed studies suggested a link to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The revelation triggered more research and heated debate within the scientific community, with some studies insisting we should be alarmed about Roundup’s entire formula–not just glyphosate.
Meanwhile, those exposed to Roundup were left wondering if their health was at risk. Weed killers, including those containing glyphosate, were sprayed in our yards, playgrounds and public areas, even on the crops we use to feed our families.
Shortly after news broke about Roundup’s link to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers, the legal battle began. Those affected began to come forward to claim Roundup was responsible for their diagnosis. In 2018, three years after Bayer bought Monsanto, Bayer set aside more than $16 billion to cover liability costs associated with the litigation.
Bayer intends to take this fight all the way to the Supreme Court, which means ongoing litigation will only continue to evolve.
What Started Roundup Weed Killer Lawsuits?
For decades, Roundup weed killers were used virtually everywhere. It was a trusted product because it was tremendously effective. So what went wrong?
Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, set off initial waves of concern. In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research and Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Meaning, it could possibly cause cancer.
More specifically, researchers were looking at an apparent increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a disease that causes your body to create too many abnormal white blood cells. It targets the lymphatic system, causing tumors to form throughout the body.
As the IARC was releasing their findings, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was in the process of conducting a registration review. In 2016, the EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee concluded glyphosate was not likely to cause cancer.
Glyphosate Sparks More Debate
With such a glaring discrepancy hanging in the air, the EPA decided to take their investigation further. A special panel of scientists came together to review the previous EPA report. Their findings were also divided. Some believed the report looked good, while others raised concern about perceived missteps in how the EPA evaluated certain data.
Additionally, the EPA’s Office of Research and Development noted that the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs failed to follow certain protocols as they evaluated glyphosate. In its view, the research did suggest glyphosate could cause cancer.
Despite the lack of consensus, the EPA upheld its original conclusion in 2019, even though yet another report, issued that same year, highlighted the links between glyphosate exposure and cancer. The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry cited multiple studies pointing to a risk ratio “greater than one” for developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or multiple myeloma after glyphosate exposure.
As Roundup lawsuits began piling up, many plaintiffs’ claims echoed the same thing: That, despite years of research indicating a link between their product and cancer, the company did nothing to warn consumers.
One of the most widely publicized cases, brought forth in California by a school groundskeeper named Dewayne Johnson, brought some truly disturbing facts to light. Johnson had been diagnosed with aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014. During his trial against Roundup manufacturers, his legal team referred to internal documents that not only show Monsanto was aware of Roundup’s link to cancer, but they took concerted efforts to mislead the public.
Records include discussions about ghostwriting scientific papers on glyphosate, with authors of the papers supporting the claim that weed killer products were safe to use. There were also plans to launch attacks on the World Health Organization’s credibility, calling into question its findings that classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.
With all the controversy and debate around glyphosate, it’s important to note that juries are deciding in favor of plaintiffs because litigation is probing even deeper into Roundup’s formula.
Some studies may conclude that glyphosate on its own is not linked to cancer, but these findings do not necessarily mean the product as a whole is safe to use.
Which Illnesses Are Linked to Roundup Exposure?
Studies have uncovered possible links between Roundup and all sorts of diseases and disorders: Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, reproductive medical conditions, fatty liver disease, kidney cancer, liver cancer, just to name a few. But the most common illness named in lawsuits, by a mile, is non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
What Is Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma?
According to the Mayo Clinic, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a disease that occurs when the body creates too many white blood cells. It impacts the lymphatic system, where the body fights germs and manages the immune system. Tumors may begin to form as white blood cells grow abnormally.
Typically, the disease is found in the lymph nodes. However, it can spread to other parts of the lymphatic system, including the tonsils, spleen, bone marrow, and lymphatic vessels. Sometimes it can spread to organs that aren’t part of the lymphatic system.
When a person is diagnosed, their recovery and survival rate hinges on many things. Most people don’t carry any obvious risk factors, and even those that do never get sick. Risk factors can include immune-suppressing medications, certain viruses and bacteria, and old age.
Importantly, the Mayo Clinic does cite certain chemicals as a potential risk factor, saying, “those used to kill insects and weeds may increase your risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. More research is needed to understand the possible link between pesticides and the development of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”
Here are some important points taken from studies linking Roundup to non-Hodgkin’s:
- WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer (2015): Based on “limited” evidence of cancer in humans from real-world exposures and “sufficient” evidence of cancer in animal experiments, the IARC classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” It also concluded there was “strong” evidence for genotoxicity, both for “pure” glyphosate and for glyphosate formulations.
- U.C. Berkeley, the Mountain Sinai School of Medicine and the University of Washington (2019): This study uncovered a “compelling link” between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, citing an increased risk of up to 70% after prolonged exposure.
- Lerner Research Institute Study (2019): Scientists identified a biological mechanism that allows glyphosate to activate an enzyme known to play a key role in genetic mutations that lead to multiple myeloma (MM) and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL)
- Canine Malignant Lymphoma Comparison Study (2012): Canine MLC is often used as a model to study non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma risk in humans. This study suggested that the use of some lawn care chemicals may increate the risk of CML by up to 70%.
The Mayo Clinic lists the following as possible symptoms of NHL:
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin
- Chest or stomach pain
- Coughing or trouble breathing
- Unexplained weight loss
- Night sweats
Who Can File a Roundup Glyphosate Lawsuit?
The majority of plaintiffs Roundup lawsuits have been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other similar types of cancer. Many were exposed on the job, such as was the case in Dewayne Johnson’s situation, and others used Roundup at home for years. In general, people who meet these criteria may be eligible to file a Roundup lawsuit:
- Anyone who had been exposed to and has used Roundup weed killer and other glyphosate-based weed killers for more than four years
- Anyone who is officially diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or other similar cancer types due to known and confirmed Roundup exposure and currently undergoing treatment/medication
- Anyone who is officially diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or other similar cancer types due to known and confirmed Roundup exposure but has not been required to undergo treatment/medication
- Anyone who has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or other similar cancer types in 2009 or later
- Anyone who lost a loved one to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or other similar cancer types due to known and confirmed Roundup exposure
In 2018, three years after Bayer bought Monsanto, Bayer set aside more than $16 billion to cover liability costs associated with Roundup litigation. Cancer victims brought three cases forward, and Monsanto lost all three trials. In June 2020, Bayer announced it would pay more than $10 billion to settle 100,000 active claims against Roundup.
Many firms have reached settlement agreements with Bayer. However, many plaintiffs were not pleased with this news. Bayer’s settlement proposal came one year after U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria ordered Bayer into mediation with plaintiff attorneys. With the settlement announcement, plaintiffs complained the individual amounts they were offered were not enough to be considered fair compensation. Under this plan, instead of seeking damages, plaintiffs would be eligible for free medical exams and compensation up to $200,000.
Approximately 30,000 unsettled cases remain. In July 2021, Bayer said it would set aside another $4.5 billion to cover Roundup cancer claims.
In July 2021, Bayer announced it would remove glyphosate from its residential lawn and garden products, effective January 2023. Moving forward, the company will manufacture household weed killers without this chemical. The vast majority of Roundup lawsuits stem from residential use, so this move is unsurprising. However, professional and agricultural users, such as farmers and retailers will still be able to purchase glyphosate products after January 2023.
Bayer is seeking a review from the U.S. Supreme Court on its loss in the Hardeman v. Monsanto trial on the grounds that the deciding state law in that case is invalid because it conflicts with a federal law.
In 2016, Edwin Hardeman sued Monsanto, alleging that Roundup caused his cancer and there was no warning that exposure to the product could be dangerous. In 2019, a jury ruled unanimously in Hardeman’s favor, awarding him $80 million. The court later reduced that award to $20 million on constitutional grounds.
The initial appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals raised an important question: whether the EPA’s approval of glyphosate (not Roundup specifically) and the agency’s industry-influenced position that glyphosate does not cause cancer preempts a personal-injury victim’s right to recover damages.
Ultimately, the 9th Circuit held that the EPA’s approval of a pesticide label does not excuse a manufacturer from liability in the tort system, affirming the jury’s finding in the Hardeman case.
If Bayer is successful and the original decision is overturned by the Supreme Court, it would prevent continued litigation centering on claims that Monsanto failed to warn consumers of the dangers associated with using Roundup. These are called “failure to warn” claims.
In the event of a “negative Supreme Court outcome,” Bayer said it would set up a claims’ administration program that will offer “pre-determined compensation values” to “eligible individuals” who used Roundup and developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma over the next 15 years.
Dewayne Johnson v. Monsanto Company (2018): A California jury found that Bayer/Monsanto failed to do their due diligence in warning Johnson of the possible risk of Roundup exposure. Johnson was awarded $289 million, which has been reduced twice since, down to $20.5 million, although Bayer/Monsanto’s liability has been upheld in each case.
Hardeman v. Monsanto Company (2019): In California, a jury found that exposure to Roundup played a significant role in Edwin Hardeman’s NHL diagnosis four years earlier, after he had used the product on his land for decades. Hardeman was awarded a total of $80 million.
Pilliod v. Monsanto Company (2019): A couple in their 70s from California had been using Roundup since the 1970s. They allege they both developed NHL as a result. A jury returned a $2 billion verdict in their favor, citing Monsanto’s failure to warn consumers of the product’s link to non-Hodgkin’s. The award was later reduced to $86.7 million, though the original award was upheld by a California appeals court in 2021.
Every Roundup case is extremely unique, so there is no fixed settlement amount tied to the litigation. Many considerations go into a verdict, like age, health conditions, and the ability of the plaintiff and their representation to prove how often they used or were exposed to Roundup. All of this and more affects the final outcome..
Additionally, some Roundup cases are being consolidated into a federal multidistrict litigation that will proceed to trial in the future. This will also impact settlement amounts, as cases are not settled individually.
Factors That Affect the Roundup Lawsuit Settlement Amounts
While each Roundup case is very different from the next, there are some common factors we can point to that help us better understand potential settlement amounts.
- Previous, ongoing, and future medical costs
Plaintiffs exposed to Roundup weed killer products may be eligible to recover the costs of past, present, and even expected future medical bills related to their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis. It’s also reasonable to expect the long-term physical and emotional suffering that happens as a result could lead to higher-than-usual medical bills. All this factors into a settlement decision.
- Lost income
Suffering from cancer after exposure to Roundup weed killer can cause victims to be unable to work and provide for their families, often for years after their initial diagnosis. Although some plaintiffs can recover from their illness, it’s possible they aren’t able to work in the same capacity as before. In some cases, victims are left completely disabled. Settlements may account for this.
- Pain and suffering damages
Prolonged illness and, of course, the death of a loved one can cause severe emotional and mental distress. This is more difficult to quantify in court, as there often are no bills or receipts to look to. But these factors are no less important and worthy of restitution.
- Loss of joy of living
If an NHL diagnosis renders a victim unable to enjoy life like they once did, perhaps because they are now permanently disabled as a result, they can pursue damages to compensate for the ways the disease has affected their life.
Pursuing a Roundup weed killer settlement versus taking the manufacturer to trial may not be the best decision for everyone. But in some cases, this course of action can be more beneficial than a long, drawn-out litigation.
- Guaranteed payout
In a Roundup lawsuit settlement, the compensation is guaranteed once both the plaintiffs and the defendant agree on the terms. Taking on a multi-billion dollar company like Bayer/Monsanto is time-consuming and costly, so a settlement can be a favorable option.
- Avoiding the additional financial burden
Not everyone who brings forward a Roundup glyphosate lawsuit can afford to pursue a verdict in court. Even defendants aren’t willing to spend more than they need to in legal costs.
- Saves time
The legal system can sometimes move at a glacial pace. Unfortunately, many Roundup plaintiffs do not have time on their side. It could be months or years before a trial verdict is reached. A settlement is often quicker.
Another advantage of a Roundup settlement is the opportunity for the plaintiffs and defendant to structure the settlement in a way that works for both of them. This may involve the defendant agreeing to pay a settlement in installments, rather than in a lump sum.
- Preventing a negative verdict
There are two types of valuation used to determine the settlement amount in Roundup cases: trial value and settlement value. The trial value is the amount you expect the court to award, while the settlement value is the amount the plaintiffs hope to settle their Roundup cases for.
These values are rarely equal to each other. Because victims are settling a Roundup case to avoid the risk of losing at trial, the settlement value will always be much lower than the trial value. But even though the settlement value is less than the trial value, at least the compensation is guaranteed.
Currently, there are over 30,000 Roundup lawsuits pending a settlement agreement. This is after Bayer agreed to pay over $10 billion to settle roughly 100,000 claims. In 2021, Bayer announced it would set aside an additional $4.5 billion to cover Roundup cancer claims, and that it would stop selling glyphosate-based weed killer for residential use in the United States in 2023. However, it will still be available commercially.
Bayer’s next hurdle will come at the U.S. Supreme Court. The body has asked for the Biden administration’s opinion on whether it should hear a landmark product liability case against Bayer, in which a California man, Edwin Hardeman, alleges his use of Roundup from the 1980s all the way to 2012 resulted in his NHL diagnosis.
Hardeman was awarded a $25 million verdict, which was upheld by a U.S. Court of Appeals. Bayer then filed a petition for the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the decision.
As all parties wait for the Biden administration to weigh in, Bayer released a statement saying it was encouraged by the court’s interest in hearing the case. The court’s conservative majority has a reputation for being pro-business.
After losing three appeals against verdicts ruling in favor of plaintiffs, combined with its nearly 30,000 remaining lawsuits, Bayer has a steep legal hill to climb. And importantly, there may remain untold numbers of consumers whose cancer diagnosis and suffering came as a result of Roundup exposure.
Despite Bayer/Monsanto’s efforts to stall and appeal cases, the fight for justice for Roundup victims continues. If you or someone you loved were exposed to Roundup and believe you have been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or a similar illness as a result, it is imperative you speak with a qualified lawyer to see if you may be eligible for a settlement. A legal expert can help you build your case and even help you determine if settlement negotiations would be better for your specific situation.