An agreement to pay more than $ 10 billion to settle thousands of claims that the popular Roundup weed killer is causing cancer is in danger of disintegrating.
Although the bulk of the complex deal between Roundup's maker, the German conglomerate Bayer, and a number of the plaintiffs' lawyers doesn't require judicial approval, one crucial point is a plan for dealing with future claims from customers who have been identified as an unknown cancer develop -Hodgkin's lymphoma.
And that approval is dubious, Judge Vince Chhabria of the US District Court in San Francisco warned in a file on Monday, saying that he was "skeptical about the adequacy and fairness of the proposed settlement and tended to reject the application for the time being." He raised concerns about the creation of a scientific panel to determine whether the main ingredient causes glyphosate to cause cancer and whether the agreement wrongly prevents potential claimants from suing.
Bayer sought to resolve its legal issues with Roundup, particularly after losing three million dollar judgments, but insisted that settlement would largely resolve future litigation issues. Failure to comply with this key condition could endanger the entire business.
Bayer said on Tuesday that it would address the judge's concerns at the preliminary approval hearing scheduled for July 24.
The agreement, announced two weeks ago after months of effort with the help of experienced broker Kenneth R. Feinberg, spans $ 8.8 to $ 9.6 billion for approximately 95,000 cases. In addition, $ 1.25 billion has been provided to fund the scientific panel and support impoverished Roundup users with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
The panel would assess whether glyphosate causes cancer and, if so, what level of exposure is dangerous. Both Bayer and the applicants would be obliged to accept the findings in future legal disputes.
At least 30,000 people have contacted lawyers about a claim, but have not yet agreed to reach an agreement.
Bayer, who added Roundup to its offering when it bought Monsanto for $ 63 billion in 2018, said the product was safe, and the comparison included no admission of liability or misconduct. Government agencies around the world, including the United States Environmental Protection Agency, have said glyphosate does not cause cancer.
However, an upswing against the chemical picked up speed in 2015 when the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, announced that glyphosate could "likely" cause cancer.
Judge Chhabria asked in his file whether it was legitimate to shift the question of whether Roundup had caused cancer to a group of scientists rather than judges and juries.
He also referred to the three previous multi-million dollar judgments and asked, "Why would a potential class member want to replace legal proceedings and the right to claim punitive damages with the procedure provided for in the settlement agreement?"
Bayer appeals against all of these judgments.