Bayer has had its hands full with legal issues stemming from its weed killer products. The company faces billions of dollars in liability due to tens of thousands of lawsuits brought against for Roundup side effects and complications. These are personal injury claims in which the plaintiffs allege that they contracted cancer due to their exposure to Roundup. Now, another of Bayer’s products has been found by a jury to be responsible for a different kind of harm.
Specifically, a jury in Missouri has awarded a farmer $265 million based on claims that a weed killer made by Bayer and BASF destroyed the man’s peach crop. For Bayer, this represents another legal blow to a company that is reportedly deep in negotiations to settle the Roundup lawsuits.
The plaintiff owns one of the largest peach farms in Missouri. His orchard is thousands of acres and is located near several other farms. The farmers on these plots of land were using herbicide that contained an ingredient known as dicamba. This is a potent ingredient that many believe does not stay localized to the area in which it is used.
Here, the plaintiff claimed that the herbicide that was used on neighboring farmland was vaporized and drifted onto his land. This inadvertent exposure was enough to destroy his peach crop and permanently damage his orchard. The lawsuit claimed that the plaintiff lost over 30,000 peach trees due to the damage from dicamba. His claims are similar to those that have been made by farmers across the country who believe that millions of acres of their land collectively have been destroyed by the weed killer. Dicamba is a potent weed killer, and the damage that it causes is often irreversible.
Specifically, the lawsuit alleged that Monsanto, the company bought by Bayer sold genetically modified cotton and soybean seeds that were resistant to dicamba. However, at the time that Monsanto sold these seeds, there was no EPA approved corresponding herbicide that would work with these seeds. It was alleged that Monsanto had to have known that farmers would use an older version of dicamba that was approved by the FDA but was prone to vaporizing and drifting to neighboring farms.
Nonetheless, Monsanto released the product into the marketplace anyway. According to the plaintiff, this violated industry standards. Farmers ended up using a dicamba-based pesticide on these seeds, not knowing that the seeds were dicamba-resistant.
The plaintiff also alleged that Monsanto specifically aimed its marketing in Southeast Missouri, even though the area is prone to herbicide drift. In this area, as well as in other areas across the country, the herbicide can vaporize and travel miles through the air to affect other neighboring farms. Here, the plaintiff has alleged that his crops were destroyed by dicamba that was sprayed not just in Missouri, but from neighboring Arkansas as well.
For Bayer, this is yet another possible legal disaster that it brought upon itself when it purchased Monsanto. The German giant paid $63 billion for Monsanto, but it is now facing many billions of dollars of liability for the actions of Monsanto prior to the takeover. According to corporate law, any company that acquires another through a merger inherits the legal liability of the acquired company.
Here, much of the $265 million verdict against Bayer was in the form of punitive damages. Like the Roundup cases, the jury was struck by the corporate misconduct of the defendant. Here, the plaintiff had alleged a corporate scheme to inflate their profits at the expense of neighboring farmers. Monsanto allegedly wanted neighboring farmers to purchase products from them that would protect them against dicamba, profiting on both ends of the transaction.
This is just the first dicamba lawsuit that made its way to trial. There are approximately 140 additional lawsuits against Bayer for these same facts that are pending in court. The initial jury verdict serves as a warning to Bayer of possible future liability that it will face for these facts.
For Bayer’s stock price, this ruling is yet another negative for shares that have already been beaten down by the legal troubles surrounding Roundup. Shares of Bayer fell over three percent when news of this verdict hit the market. The stock price had rallied in recent months as prospects grew of a Roundup settlement. However, possible dicamba liability is another negative overhang for the company. There is talk that Bayer may split up its agricultural and pharmaceutical businesses because the agricultural side of the company is depressing the share price.
For Bayer, this is not the last of Monsanto’s alleged misdeeds that it will have to answer for as there is a pollution case that has been filed by many cities claiming that Monsanto polluted their waterways. For now, the company promises to appeal the dicamba verdict to a higher court in Missouri in the hopes that the verdict will either be overturned or the punitive damages will be cut. At this point, Bayer has come to regret its $63 billion purchase of Monsanto since an end to its legal troubles are nowhere in sight.