When a Vallejo school groundskeeper named Dewayne “Lee” Johnson won a stunning $289 million verdict, the state of California quickly became the center of a world of litigation surrounding the popular weedkiller Roundup.
Two more verdicts followed in California, including a $2 billion jury award for a Livermore couple who both used Roundup and were later diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Though all three awards were reduced through appeals, these three California trials were substantial enough to compel Bayer, the company that makes Roundup, to offer a multibillion-dollar settlement in the tens of thousands of cases pending as well as potential future claims.
Whether it’s being used around people’s homes or as part of their jobs, including groundskeeping, farming, and more, Roundup is the most popular weedkiller in history. More than 122 billion pounds of the chemical have been used in agriculture in California over the past few decades.
What should people in California know about this weedkiller and its unique status in the state, the health effects it could cause, and their rights to seek justice if they or a loved one were harmed because they used Roundup?
What Does Roundup Do?
Roundup is the brand name for an herbicide known as glyphosate. It was initially used in commercial water system maintenance as a method for reducing scale and calcium buildup. In 1970, a chemist with the Monsanto Corp. discovered it was an incredibly effective herbicide, and the company soon patented it as Roundup.
The effectiveness of glyphosate is due largely to the fact that it prevents plants from producing a particular enzyme that’s required for growth. As a non-selective herbicide, it will kill any plant it’s sprayed on.
This made the product incredibly popular as a weedkiller, and one study estimated that, including residential, commercial, and agricultural uses, more than 3.5 billion pounds of Roundup have been applied in the U.S. since 1974, the year Roundup was introduced to the American market.
Because of its position as an agricultural leader, California has one of the highest rates of Roundup usage related to farming. In fact, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), since 1992, more than 122 million pounds of glyphosate have been used on California crops.
Is Roundup Dangerous?
Usage of Roundup in agriculture has fallen and many people have become wary of using the product thanks to news-making jury decisions. Still, Roundup remains legal for use despite a growing belief that it’s dangerous and may cause cancer.
Some cities and towns have abandoned Roundup when it comes to their public works and parks departments, and more than 40 localities in California have issued some restrictions on its use.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formally lists glyphosate/Roundup as unlikely to be carcinogenic, or cancer-causing. However, other organizations differ. The International Agency for Cancer Research in 2015 formally listed glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, and more recent studies have indicated that Roundup use raises cancer risk.
All four California plaintiffs to win major jury verdicts against Roundup were diagnosed with the same form of cancer — non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). This type of cancer accounts for about 4% of all cases, making it one of the rarest forms of the disease.
A University of Washington study in 2019 found that a person’s risk for developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma could rise as much as 41% after exposure to glyphosate.
Bayer, the company that purchased Monsanto and Roundup in 2016, has repeatedly maintained that the product is safe, often pointing to the EPA’s classification of glyphosate as unlikely to cause cancer. However, that very agency has in the past acknowledged that there is evidence of the dangers of Roundup.
In 1985, an EPA panel formally classified glyphosate as a Class C carcinogen, meaning evidence was suggestive that the substance causes cancer. The agency changed its mind in 1991, and all reviews it’s conducted since then and as recently as 2020 have reaffirmed the stance that Roundup doesn’t cause cancer.
The most common symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma include:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Weight loss
- Swollen abdomen
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent, severe infections
- Easy bruising
- Unexplained swelling
- Night sweats
Depending on the age at which a person is diagnosed, their chances of survival could be poor, and people over the age of 60 are most likely to have a poor prognosis. However, localized cases of NHL, meaning cases discovered before cancer has spread to any other parts of the body, have a 73% rate of patients surviving past five years.
This falls considerably, though, when NHL isn’t discovered until it has spread throughout the body, including to the lungs, bone marrow, or organs. In the most severe stage, only about 57% of people diagnosed with NHL survive past five years.
American Cancer Society data estimates that nearly 82,000 new cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma will be diagnosed this year, and that about 21,000 people with the cancer will die in 2021. NHL is more common in men than women, and the per-capita rate of NHL has climbed by nearly 5% over the past few decades.
What’s the Current Status of Roundup Litigation?
No effort has been made by Bayer or Monsanto to recall or reformulate Roundup, but Bayer has agreed to settle most of the tens of thousands of cases it’s currently facing. After losing multiple jury trials over Roundup, in the summer of 2020, Bayer issued an offer to settle most of the 100,000 cases that had been filed for a combined $10 billion.
In 2021, a proposal was put forth for Bayer to set aside $2 billion to settle cases that have yet to be filed by people who used Roundup and later became sick, including with non-Hodgkin lymphoma or other types of cancer. That potential settlement has yet to be approved by Judge Vince Chhabria, who is overseeing thousands of Roundup cases in a massive multijurisdictional litigation (MDL).
All three California trials that Bayer has lost have been subject to evidence that not only is Roundup a dangerous product but that Monsanto, the company that patented glyphosate as a weedkiller, knew of the risks but concealed them from the public.
Even as it suggests multiple settlements, Bayer has continued to fight the three verdicts in appeals courts.
Separately from these cases, Bayer is also facing litigation surrounding the labeling of Roundup. Plaintiffs have alleged that the product’s label is misleading because it stated that it was safe for humans and animals because the active ingredient, glyphosate, attacks an enzyme that doesn’t exist in humans, cats, dogs, and other animals.
Bayer has agreed to settle this class-action case for $40 million, and some states have already approved it, paving the way for people to receive payments. The effective periods vary, but in California, it spans from Feb. 13, 2015 to the present day.
How Much Can I Get From a Roundup Lawsuit in California?
Three trials in California over the connection between Roundup and cancer have ended in jury awards topping $2.3 billion, though all three were later reduced on appeal. Possibly due to continued legal pressure because of these verdicts, Bayer in 2020 proposed a $10 billion settlement to end about 125,000 cases against the company.
While that agreement has yet to be finalized, it would equate to an average of $165,000 per plaintiff. However, a points-based system would mean some plaintiffs could receive far more for cases that have already been filed, and another settlement proposal would apply to future cases.
The preliminary $10 billion settlement agreement applies to plaintiffs diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma who used the product for at least a year before diagnosis. Here’s a look at several other stipulations:
- Plaintiff must be a U.S. citizen
- Points determined by administrator
- Points based on factors like age at diagnosis and injury severity up to 5 points; most points awarded for families of people who died
- Additional points awarded for those diagnosed with primary central nervous system NHL, which is more severe
- Points deducted based on factors like if the plaintiff died before 2009, if they had no spouse or juvenile children
It’s expected that settlement amounts in the product-labeling case would be small, with the highest expected to be around $90.
What Should I Do if I’ve Been Affected By Roundup?
If you used Roundup and later were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, consulting with an expert class-action law firm in California is the best way to ensure that you are able to receive compensation for the damage you’ve suffered.
Not just because it’s the biggest state in the country, California is home to many of the most powerful and successful class-action law firms in the nation. And with the state’s central position as a key player in the ongoing battle over Roundup and glyphosate, many attorneys have developed expertise in cases like this.
In most Roundup cases, you only pay legal fees if you win your case, and initial consultations are usually totally free of charge. Fill out our form to be put in touch with a legal expert who can help you.