A Missouri jury awarded U.S. peach grower Bader Farms $265 million dollars in early February 2020 in a suit he brought against Bayer and BASF. Bill Bader, the owner of Bader Farms, said that his crops were damaged when the companies’ dicamba-based herbicide drifted on to his peach trees from nearby farms.
The trial is the first to come to judgment in the United States on the issue of whether Bayer and BASF should be held liable for damage attributed to their herbicide. Farmers across the country have brought lawsuits against the companies, saying that the herbicide can drift for miles when applied and damage cropland far from the site of application. In late 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency validated some of these concerns, imposing restrictions on the use of dicamba over worries that it could damage nearby crops.
The jury in Bader’s case awarded the farm $15 million in actual damages and $250 million in punitive damages. Both Bayer and BASF have expressed disappointment in the verdict and have vowed to appeal the jury’s decision. The companies say that dicamba herbicides are safe when used correctly.
Lawyers representing farmers say that this verdict is promising for other dicamba plaintiffs. The Missouri jury awarded $50 million more in punitive damages than the plaintiff’s legal team asked for. And the jury acted quickly. It only took thirty minutes to decide on the $250 million punitive damages award.
Lawyers also say that Bader’s case was a difficult one and that other cases could be easier to prove. In Bader’s case, Bayer was able to argue that the peach trees were not damaged by dicamba. But that defense is more difficult to argue in soybean cases. Soybean leaves damaged by dicamba have a “cupped” look, which should make it harder for Bayer to deny that there was any exposure.
Dicamba lawsuits are not the only legal challenges Bayer is facing over their herbicide products. The company is currently in mediation to try to settle thousands of lawsuits claiming that Roundup weed killer causes cancer. More than 40,000 plaintiffs say that Roundup causes a cancer called non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. People familiar with the Roundup cases say that the settlement in those cases could top $10 billion.
Both the Roundup and dicamba lawsuits have Bayer investors worried. In 2018, Bayer acquired Monsanto, the producer of both Roundup and dicamba, for $63 billion. Since that acquisition, Bayer has lost three Roundup trials and now one dicamba trial. Investors have responded. Bayer shares have fallen since that acquisition and activist investors are calling for the company to split its pharmaceutical and agriculture divisions.
But the agriculture division is not the only part of Bayer causing headaches for investors. Bayer is also set to face trials concerning its Essure birth control devices. Women in those suits say that the devices cause pain, bleeding, autoimmune disorders, and a host of other problems.
For now, Bayer’s heels are dug in on dicamba. Bayer says that it plans to file post-trial motions in Bader’s case within the next month and ask the judge to overturn the jury’s verdict. If that fails, it plans to take its efforts to the Missouri appellate courts.
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