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Monsanto Gets $185 Million PCB Verdict Tossed in Washington

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Bayer AG’s Monsanto unit persuaded an appeals court in Washington state to throw out a $185 million jury award to three former teachers at a Seattle-area school who blamed exposure to the firm’s toxic chemicals for their brain injuries.

A three-judge panel last Wednesday found flaws in the 2021 trial over claims that Monsanto’s polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, caused the illnesses. The teachers said the chemicals leaked from lights in the school. The 2-1 ruling by the state’s intermediate appellate court sets up a possible retrial.

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Shares of Bayer, which have fallen more than 70% since it acquired Monsanto in 2018, rose as much as 5.4% in early Frankfurt trading.

The case is the first of more than half a dozen verdicts with combined damages of more than $1.5 billion to reach the appeals court over alleged PCB exposure at the Sky Valley Education Center. Jefferies analysts said it’s “one of a number of categories of litigation Bayer faces regarding PCBs and arguably the one with the greatest risk of swelling to a multiple billion dollar figure.”

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Monsanto called the ruling “very significant” because it may have implications for other verdicts.

“The company will consider its legal options regarding the application of this ruling to other SVEC verdicts that are in conflict with it, as well as how this ruling could affect any future trials,” the chemical maker said in an emailed statement.

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Rick Friedman, a Seattle lawyer that represented the teachers, said he plans to appeal the decision. “We always knew this case was headed for the state Supreme Court. We believe we will ultimately prevail there, but even if we don’t, we will still win these cases at the trial level, following the rules laid out by the Court of Appeals.”

Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018 for $63 billion, has been dealing with multiple costly legal fights it inherited from the US maker of seeds and herbicides, including thousands of lawsuits alleging that its Roundup weed killer causes cancer.

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Bayer’s top-end exposure in PCB contamination claims from US states and individuals could exceed $2.5 billion, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. The company has already paid out more than $650 million in settlements of lawsuits filed by US cities and counties over pollution of waterways.

The ruling Wednesday follows a judge’s decision last week to cut in half a $784 million punitive-damage award to seven other women who contend they were sickened by PCB exposure at the school.

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The case is Erickson v. Pharmacia, No. 83287-5-1, Division One, Court of Appeals for the State of Washington (Seattle).

(Updates with Bayer share reaction in third paragraph, Jefferies comments in fourth)

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Copyright 2024 Bloomberg.

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