By Sara Randazzo 

Bayer AG is trying again to contain its liability over claims that its popular Roundup weedkiller causes cancer, unveiling Wednesday a $2 billion proposal to pay farmers and gardeners who try to blame the company for illnesses in the future.

The German company and plaintiffs' lawyers said they would seek a U.S. District Court judge's permission for a compensation program that would pay between around $5,000 and $200,000 each to future plaintiffs who contract non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup.

Bayer has been battling litigation over Roundup's safety since acquiring Monsanto Co., the weedkiller's manufacturer, in 2018. After three California juries found in favor of sick plaintiffs, Bayer agreed last June to pay up to $9.6 billion to settle existing Roundup cases. It continues to deny any link between the product and cancer.

That deal, however, didn't prevent more plaintiffs from coming forward in the future. An earlier proposal to create a panel of scientific experts whose conclusions on Roundup's safety would bind future litigants didn't pass muster with a federal judge, and Bayer has been working with plaintiffs' lawyers since July on a revision.

The new proposed class action covers those who haven't yet hired a lawyer to pursue a Roundup claim. If approved by the court, individuals who believe Roundup caused their non-Hodgkin lymphoma can apply for a settlement from a $1.33 billion pot of money, with the offers dependent on age, health, proof of Roundup use and other factors. Those who opt out can still pursue litigation on their own, with the prospect of convincing a jury to award higher, punitive damages not available to class members. The settlement fund will last four years, with the option to extend it after that.

"It's really about options, and it's really about choice," said Elizabeth Cabraser, an attorney for the plaintiffs. "I think it's a great option that offers predictability and transparency for people who don't want to wait, who want to be compensated."

Roundup continues to be sold for commercial farming and consumer gardening use with no changes to its formulation or label. Wednesday's deal includes a proposal to place on Roundup's label a link to a website with information on the disputed science behind the safety of glyphosate, the weedkiller's active ingredient.

The Environmental Protection Agency must sign off on the change. The EPA has previously said Bayer can't include a cancer-warning label on the product because the agency concluded the science didn't back up such a claim.

Bayer told investors in November that it was setting aside another $750 million to resolve the future Roundup cases, bringing the total to the $2 billion detailed Wednesday. In addition to the compensation fund, the money will go toward health programs to help potential plaintiffs be monitored for non-Hodgkin lymphoma; grants for research on NHL treatments; a science panel that will reach nonbinding conclusions on glyphosate's safety; and fees to plaintiffs' attorneys, who will be providing some free legal services for those applying for compensation.

The company is still completing settlements with lawyers who have existing Roundup clients. In November, Bayer said it had reached deals with 88,500 of the roughly 125,000 claims in that camp.

Bayer continues to pursue appeals in the three cases that went to trial. In October, California's highest court declined to hear an appeal in the first jury verdict, though lower courts slashed the award to groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson to $20.4 million, from an initial $289.2 million.

Write to Sara Randazzo at sara.randazzo@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 03, 2021 17:02 ET (22:02 GMT)

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