Bayer hits Roundup settlement snag as judge 'tentatively inclined' to reject $1.25B deal

Looks like Bayer’s Roundup litigation headache may not be over after all, even after the company committed nearly $11 billion to a settlement.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, who oversees the class action lawsuit, said in a court filing (PDF) Monday that he’s ready to reject part of the deal centered on potential future claims that the popular Monsanto weedkiller causes cancer.

“[T]he Court is skeptical of the propriety and fairness of the proposed settlement, and is tentatively inclined to deny the motion,” Chhabria wrote.

On June 24, Bayer said it would shell out between $10.1 billion and $10.9 billion to resolve the Roundup litigation. Of the total, $8.8 billion to $9.6 billion would be allocated to resolve about 125,000 existing claims, while the remaining $1.25 billion is earmarked for future plaintiffs who have not yet sued or developed cancer. It’s the latter half that requires court approval—and that the judge views skeptically.

As part of the agreement, Bayer pledges to set up an independent science panel to determine whether Roundup can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma as the plaintiffs claim. If the experts can't find a causal connection, new class members would be barred from suing Bayer. The $1.25 billion would be set aside to support the research and any payments to those who develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma before the experts issue their opinion, a process that could take several years, Bayer said.

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However, Chhabria questions whether it would be lawful “to delegate the function of deciding the general causation question (that is, whether and at what dose Roundup is capable of causing cancer) from judges and juries to a panel of scientists,” he wrote in the document.

What’s more, he also raised the possibility that what the panel of scientists finds could be overturned later. “In an area where the science may be evolving, how could it be appropriate to lock in a decision from a panel of scientists for all future cases?” he said.

Chhabria has set a July 24 hearing, as scheduled, to discuss the proposed settlement.