Sonoma County Man Awarded $80 Million in Lawsuit Claiming Roundup Weed Killer Caused His Cancer

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A customer shops for Roundup products — made by agribusiness giant Monsanto — at a store in San Rafael. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

A U.S. jury on Wednesday awarded $80 million in damages to a North Bay resident who blamed Roundup weed killer for his cancer, in a case that his attorneys say could help determine the fate of hundreds of similar lawsuits.

The six-person jury in a San Francisco federal court returned its verdict in favor of Edwin Hardeman, 70, who said he used Roundup products to treat poison oak, overgrowth and weeds on his Sonoma County property for years, and was never adequately warned of its potential dangers. The same jury previously found, in a unanimous verdict, that Roundup was a substantial factor in Hardeman's non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Monsanto said it would appeal the jury award.

Agribusiness giant Monsanto, which was purchased last year by Bayer AG for $63 billion, says studies have established that the active ingredient in its widely used weed killer, glyphosate, is safe. The company said it will appeal.

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"We are disappointed with the jury's decision, but this verdict does not change the weight of over four decades of extensive science and the conclusions of regulators worldwide that support the safety of our glyphosate-based herbicides and that they are not carcinogenic," according to a statement from Bayer, which acquired Monsanto last year.

A different jury in August awarded another man $289 million, but a judge later reduced it to $78 million. Monsanto has appealed that award as well.

Hardeman's trial may be more significant than that case. U.S. Judge Vince Chhabria is overseeing hundreds of Roundup lawsuits and deemed Hardeman's case and two others "bellwether trials."

The outcome of such cases can help attorneys decide whether to keep fighting similar lawsuits or settle them. Legal experts said verdicts in favor of Hardeman and the other test plaintiffs would give their attorneys a strong bargaining position in any settlement talks for the remaining cases before Chhabria.

Many government regulators have rejected a link between cancer and glyphosate. Monsanto has vehemently denied such a connection, saying hundreds of studies have established that the chemical is safe.

Monsanto developed glyphosate in the 1970s, and the weed killer is now sold in more than 160 countries and widely used in the United States.

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The herbicide came under increasing scrutiny after the France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, classified it as a "probable human carcinogen" in 2015.

Lawsuits against Monsanto followed, and thousands are now pending nationwide. Another trial, beginning Thursday in Oakland, involves a Livermore couple in their mid-70s who were both diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after using Roundup for about 40 years.

Monsanto has attacked the international research agency's opinion as an outlier. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says glyphosate is safe for people when used in accordance with label directions.

Jennifer Moore, one of Hardeman's attorneys, called the verdict history making.

"Today the jury sent a message loud and clear that companies should no longer put products on the market for anyone to buy without being truthful, without testing, and without warning if it causes cancer," she said. "They chose not to tell the American public and they chose not to tell the world that their product was dangerous and today the jury held unanimously that that was wrong, it was deceitful and it was malicious."

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