(Reuters) - Bayer AG is set to face a fourth U.S. jury trial over allegations that its Roundup weed killer causes cancer, with four cancer patients in the hometown of its agricultural subsidiary Monsanto scheduled to begin making their case on Friday.
The lawsuit marks the first multi-plaintiff trial in the litigation over whether glyphosate, Roundup’s active ingredient, is carcinogenic, and is the first trial outside of California. It is being held in St. Louis, where Monsanto was headquartered before Bayer bought the company in a $63 billion deal in 2018.
Three consecutive juries found the company liable for causing cancer with damages of tens of millions of dollars awarded to each plaintiff. Bayer is appealing those verdicts.
Court-appointed mediator Ken Feinberg has put the number of Roundup cancer claimants at more than 75,000 while Bayer said the claims it has been served with in court were below 50,000.
Bayer’s share price has tumbled since the first verdict in August 2018 but the stock rose 3% on Friday after Bloomberg reported a possible out-of-court settlement with some plaintiffs that could lead to a total payout of about $10 billion.
While traders said the market likes the idea of Bayer settling the litigation, some cautioned that the prospect of a comprehensive deal remained uncertain.
Analysts have estimated the size of any such settlement at $8-$12 billion.
While most plaintiffs’ lawyers have agreed to postpone trials pending negotiations, some have decided to pursue their clients’ day in court.
The case in Missouri’s Circuit Court for the 22nd Judicial Circuit of the City of St. Louis is scheduled to last several weeks, with both sides presenting extensive scientific evidence through expert witnesses.
Bayer denies all allegations that Roundup or glyphosate causes cancer, saying decades of independent studies have shown the world’s most widely used weed killer to be safe for human use and noting that regulators around the world have approved the product.
“At the end of the day, this trial should come down to the weight of the science, and we remain confident in the extensive scientific record and regulatory assessments that support the safety of our glyphosate-based herbicides and that they do not cause cancer,” the company said in a statement.
Several court cases have been postponed by both parties in the past to expedite settlement talks. By pursuing the St. Louis trail The Miller Firm LLC, a key player in the litigation, is seeking to increase pressure on Bayer.
The case involves the claims of Bryce Batiste from Louisiana, Ann Meeks from Florida, Glen Ashelman from Pennsylvania and Christopher Wade, a St. Louis resident. All four have been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cell cancer that plaintiffs in the litigation allege is caused by Roundup.
Some legal experts said Bayer could benefit from a home advantage in the St. Louis trial, where Monsanto has century-old roots. But juries in the city are also known to dole out massive damages awards against large corporations.
Additional reporting by Ludwig Burger; Editing by Leslie Adler and Elaine Hardcastle