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In the court’s first partially virtual trial, a San Bernardino jury ruled Dec. 9 that chemical manufacturer Monsanto was not negligent in designing and selling its weed killer Roundup. The plaintiff’s counsel is planning to appeal.

Yucaipan Donetta Stephens, 71, claimed in her Aug. 14, 2020, filing that the active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, caused her cancer. She claimed that Monsanto was negligent in designing Roundup and that Monsanto failed to warn customers that the product caused cancer. Stephens used the product for an hour every month for 34 years, starting in 1985, and almost died twice from her stage-four non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, said her attorney, Texas lawyer Fletch Trammell.

The jury did not decide whether or not Roundup caused Stephens’ cancer. They decided that the product did not have a knowable potential cancer risk, and did not reasonably know Roundup was likely to be dangerous if used in a reasonable manner.

Trial by Zoom

The trial was the first partially-virtual trial in San Bernardino Superior Court, due to trial participants getting coronavirus.

Trammell wrote in an email that the virtual format made the case hard to try, and that he was planning on an appeal to try the case in better circumstances.

“We were allotted a few hours per day and usually only two or three days per week. Despite everyone’s best efforts, it was impossible to try a coherent case with that schedule. A case like this would normally take a few weeks to try.  This one took over four months with constant technical issues and multiple long breaks over the course of trial,” Trammel wrote.

Follow Our Courts has also reached out to Monsanto’s counsel.

Opening statements

In opening statements Nov. 12, Trammell said the evidence would show that Monsanto’s test for cancer risk in glyphosate showed a clear trend between glyphosate consumption in mice and cancer, that the company did not share that information with its consumers over concern that its customers would stop buying its products, that Monsanto never did another study requested by the EPA in exchange for removing its cancer classification, that Monsanto turned a blind eye after their researcher said there was a link between the product and cancer risk, and that Monsanto wrote papers that found Roundup safe, and paid outside researches to put their name on it.

Monsanto’s counsel, Los Angeles Proskauer Rose LLP attorney Bart Williams, said in opening statements that the credible science does not prove that Roundup causes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, that a government study of 54,251 Roundup-using farmers starting in 1993 found no relationship between non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Roundup, that the EPA found glyphosate did not cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma when they re-registered the product starting in 2009, and that the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and multiple agencies around the world also found no link.

Williams also argued that Stephens’ biggest risk of the disease was due to her age, and that her total exposure was about a Windex bottle of Roundup since she had started using the product in 2001, an initial date she later changed to 1985. Williams said the Monsanto researcher mentioned by Trammell concluded in the end that there was no link, and that the scientific papers were reviews of Monsanto research, not ghostwritten research.

Parties

The Gibbs Law Group, Trammel, PC; Kirkendall Dwyer LLP; Kiesel Law LLP; and the Law Offices of William D. Shapiro represented Donetta Stephens.

Hollingsworth LLP; Winston & Strawn LLP; Parker, Milliken, Clark, O’Hara & Samuelian; and Proskauer Rose LLP represented Monsanto.

Judge Gilbert Ochoa presided.

Case no: CIVSB2104801

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