(May 9, 2019) The third jury to hear a Roundup case this year was told by the plaintiffs’ attorney yesterday to punish Monsanto with a $1 billion verdict. In the five-week-long trial which wrapped yesterday after closing arguments, an attorney for Alva and Alberta Pilliod told the jury that Monsanto needed to be punished for misleading the couple and the world about the dangers of Roundup. Both Alva and Alberta Pilliod developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after decades of using Monsanto’s Roundup. Their attorney said Roundup caused them to develop NHL; Monsanto’s attorneys argued that it had not.
The Pilliods’ attorney told the jury they should find that Monsanto failed to warn his clients of Roundup’s cancer risks, and award them $1 billion in punitive damages and $55 million in combined economic and noneconomic damages. He said that if the Pilliods had known Roundup could cause cancer, they would have never touched it. He argued that the jury needs to send Monsanto a message.
The Pilliods’ case is the third to go to trial out of 13,400 lawsuits pending that allege Roundup causes cancer. Their trial began March 28, a day after a separate California federal jury handed down an $80 million verdict against Monsanto in favor of Ed Hardeman.
The first trial concluded in August 2019 when a state jury in San Francisco awarded former school groundskeeper DeWayne “Lee” Johnson a $289 million verdict against Monsanto. A state judge later slashed the verdict to $78 million, despite multiple pleas from the jurors to leave their full award in place. Monsanto has also appealed that entire verdict
On May 8, closing arguments in the Pilliods’ trial drew a crowd of people into the small state courtroom, including DeWayne Johnson, Bobby Kennedy, Jr., Oliver Stone, and a juror from Mr. Johnson’s trial.
Roundup Born in Fraud
In the Pilliods’ closing argument, their attorney Brent Wisner described decades of Monsanto executives’ attempts to cover up or suppress science that linked Roundup to cancer. He said the weedkiller was “born in fraud,” because the U.S. EPA approved it in 1974 based on fraudulent studies conducted by Industrial Bio-Test Laboratories. The EPA discovered the lab’s fraudulent work in 1976, but Monsanto was nevertheless allowed to keep Roundup on the market. Monsanto also repeatedly refused to conduct certain cancer studies in the 1980s and 1990s even after the EPA and its own toxicologist told Monsanto it needed to conduct those tests.
Monsanto spent years, meanwhile, trying to manipulate the scientific literature by ghostwriting academic articles while also feeding the EPA those same articles and others based on “bad science,” according to Mr. Wisner.
The Pilliods’ attorney said Monsanto executives also adopted a corporate strategy to combat the finding of the International Agency for Research on Cancer on Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate. The IARC concluded that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen in 2015, and Mr. Wisner reminded the jury that they had seen evidence of how Monsanto was moving to discredit the IARC even before the scientists had issued their finding.
US EPA captured by Industry
Mr. Wisner said Monsanto’s “bad science” included the fraudulent Industrial Bio-Test studies as well as the ghostwritten studies that “permeate” scientific literature today. He said the EPA is still citing those studies in its findings because the government has been captured by the industry. He also argued that Monsanto continued to sell Roundup with polyethoxylated tallow amine (POEA), a surfactant that makes glyphosate 50 times more toxic than glyphosate alone and is banned in Europe.
Roundup/Glyphosate and Lymphoma
Meanwhile, said Mr. Wisner, Monsanto refused to conduct cancer tests on Roundup and ignored studies showing it is easily absorbed through the skin, stored, then transported to the bones where lymphoma develops.
Mr. Wisner also argued that not one of Monsanto’s experts in this trial was an expert on chemicals that cause cancer. He said they focused only on epidemiological data, and ignored animal studies and mechanistic data showing Roundup’s cancer links.
Monsanto Rebuttal – A Lawyer’s Charade
Monsanto’s attorney said during closing that the Pilliods shouldn’t be awarded anything. He said Mr. Wisner had performed a “charade” in a “rehearsed routine” in front of the jury with the plaintiffs’ toxicologist Dr. William Sawyer. He said Dr. Sawyer is a seasoned expert who has testified in 300 cases. The Monsanto attorney said that during Dr. Sawyer’s testimony, Mr. Wisner and Dr. Sawyer planned an exchange in which the expert warned the lawyer to wear gloves when he picked up an open Roundup bottle, even though they both knew it contained only water. Monsanto’s attorney said the stunt was meant to mislead the jury about Roundup’s danger. He said the men disrespected the jury’s intelligence and the justice system.
Monsanto’s attorney also argued that Mr. Wisner and the Pilliods’ experts gave “wildly misleading” Roundup exposure estimates throughout the trial. He said Roundup doses given mice in cancer studies were 2 million times more Roundup than what the Pilliods had been exposed to.
In reality, argued Monsanto’s attorney, the couple both had years of health issues and a lengthy smoking history that together weakened their immune systems and put them at a higher risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He noted that Alva Pilliod had 22 instances of skin cancer since the 1970s, five brain infections from the herpes virus, and genital warts. He said Alberta Pilliod had Hoshimoto’s disease and bladder cancer.
Monsanto’s lawyer argued that Roundup is safe to use. He said multiple regulatory agencies around the world, including Health Canada, the U.S. EPA and the Australian government have repeatedly concluded that Roundup doesn’t pose a cancer risk. He said the Pilliods are asking the jury to “throw out” 40 years of EPA findings.
The Monsanto attorney also said the Pilliods’ case doesn’t meet the heightened burden of proof to warrant a punitive damages award. He admitted that some of the language in Monsanto’s internal emails “probably” didn’t use the right phrases, but said the Pilliods’ attorneys were “cherry-picking” phrases from hundreds of Monsanto’s internal emails to make the company look bad. He also defended the ghostwritten scientific articles by saying they don’t address the issues at hand.
Mr. Wisner attempted to counter the Monsanto accusations that he had played a charade with Sawyer to manipulate the jury, but the judge stopped him, saying, “knock it off.”
After the Pilliods’ closings, Monsanto’s counsel asked the court to declare a mistrial, arguing that Wisner had made multiple arguments that were off-limits. But Alameda Superior Judge Winifred Smith denied the motion and refused Monsanto’s request to give a curative jury instruction.
The jury began its deliberations this morning.
Third Roundup Case Jury told to punish Monsanto with $1B Verdict
The case is Pilliod v. Monsanto Co., case number RG17862702, in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Alameda.