SAN FRANCISCO – Roundup weed killer was a significant factor in a California man's cancer, a jury determined Tuesday in the first phase of a lawsuit that lawyers said could help determine the fate of hundreds of similar cases.
The unanimous judgment of the six-person jury of the Federal Court in San Francisco came in a lawsuit filed against Roundup's producer, agribusiness giant Monsanto. Edwin Hardeman, 70, was the second plaintiff to go to trial by thousands of countries claiming that the murder killer causes cancer.
Monsanto says studies have determined that Roundup's active ingredient, glyphosate, is safe.
A San Francisco jury in August awarded another man $ 289 million after deciding Roundup caused his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. A judge later slashed the price to $ 78 million, and Monsanto has appealed.
Hardeman's trial is before another judge and may be more significant. American judge Vince Chhabria oversees hundreds of Roundup lawsuits and has considered the Hardeman case and two other "bellwether trials."
The outcome of such cases can help lawyers decide whether to continue fighting or settling in similar cases. Legal experts said a jury decision in favor of Hardeman, and the other test candidates would give their attorneys a strong negotiating position in any deal negotiations on the remaining cases before Chhabria.
The judge had split the Hardeman test into two phases. Hardemann's lawyers first had to convince jury members that the use of Roundup was an important factor in cancer before they could argue for damage.
The experiment will now proceed to the second phase to determine whether the company is responsible and if so, how much.
Hardeman refused to comment outside court.
"This has been a long time since Mr. Hardeman," said one of his lawyers, Jennifer Moore. "He is very pleased that he had his day in court and we are looking forward to phase two."
Many government inspectors have rejected a relationship between cancer and glyphosate. Monsanto has strongly denied such a connection, saying that hundreds of studies have determined that the chemical is safe.
Bayer, who bought Monsanto last year, said in a statement after the verdict that it continues to "firmly believe that science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer."
"We are confident that the evidence in phase two shows that Monsanto's behavior has been appropriate, and the company should not be responsible for Mr. Hardeman's cancer, "it said.
Monsanto developed glyphosate in the 1970s, and the herbicide is now sold in more than 160 countries and widely used in the United States.
The herbicide came under scrutiny by the France-based International Agency for Cancer Research, which is part of the World Health Organization, classified it as a "likely human carcinogen" in 2015.
Litigation against Monsanto followed. The company has attacked the international research agency's opinion as an outlier.
The US Environmental Protection Agency says glyphosate is safe for people when used according to label directions.
Hardeman began using Roundup products to treat poison oak, overgrowth and weeds on his Sonoma County estate in the 1980s and continued to use them throughout 2012, according to his lawyers. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2015.