June 19, 2019 Category: Product Liability
Alva and Alberta Pilliod used Roundup weedkiller on their California property for more than 36 years. In 2011, Alva was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Four years later, Alberta received the same devastating cancer diagnosis. The odds of both spouses getting this same diagnosis was one in 20,000. They sued Bayer, claiming that its pesticide caused their cancer.
Roundup weedkiller has been at the center of controversy for quite some time now. The company faces more than 13,000 product liability lawsuits. The Pilliod’s case was the third Roundup injury lawsuit to go to trial. Last month, a California jury awarded the couple more than $2 Billion in damages. This was the largest jury award of 2019, and the eighth largest verdict in American history.
California’s Product Liability Laws Protect Consumers
Products that are sold in the United States aren’t always subject to government oversight. In fact, manufacturers are largely responsible for making sure that the things you buy and use are safe. It’s hard to trust that a company will put consumer safety in front of its own profits. Companies might be inclined to cut corners and skip safety tests to limit their own costs.
In order to encourage companies to make safe products, states across the country have created product liability laws. In California, consumers are protected if they’re injured because of an unreasonably dangerous or defective product. Companies like Bayer can be held strictly liable for any harm their products cause.
Consumers don’t have to prove that a manufacturer was negligent. Instead, companies are responsible for dangerous products regardless fo the level of care they exercised in making it. The threat of a lawsuit and financial liability puts a lot of pressure on companies to do the right thing.
Types of Product Liability Claims
A company can be financially liable if a consumer is injured because of a defect in one of its products. There are three primary types of defects: design, manufacturing, and marketing.
A design defect exists when a product is inherently unsafe. It’s dangerous because of the way it was designed and will remain that way. It doesn’t matter how careful the company was in manufacturing the product. Something in the design makes it unsafe.
Many Roundup lawsuits claim that Roundup has a design defect. The product is inherently dangerous because it contains glyphosate. Many studies show that glyphosate causes cancer, especially when combined with other chemicals.
A manufacturing defect exists when a product isn’t put together properly. Sometimes companies use the wrong materials or forget to include an important component. The design is fine; the danger exists because the company made a mistake when manufacturing it.
A marketing defect is also known as a failure to warn. This exists when a company doesn’t inform consumers about potential risks that could occur when using the product as intended. This is why you see so many instructions and warning labels on the products you buy.
Roundup lawsuits also claim that Bayer failed to warn consumers about the risks of using the pesticide. Some plaintiffs even accuse the company of knowing about the risk but intentionally burying information that could hurt sales. Simply put, Bayer is accused of putting its own profits in front of the lives of its customers.
Punitive Damages Available When a Company Acts With Malice, Fraud
Most personal injury plaintiffs will only be entitled to compensatory (economic and non-economic) damages. Compensatory damages are awarded to make up for the financial, physical, and emotional costs of an accident and injury. They’re not paid to punish the person (or company) that is at fault.
Punitive damages are awarded for this purpose. However, punitive damages are only available in a very small fraction of personal injury cases. In California, punitive awards are permissible when there is “clear and convincing evidence” that a defendant “engaged in conduct with malice, oppression, or fraud.”
So far, all of the plaintiffs in Roundup injury trials have been awarded punitive damages. In fact, punitive damages have accounted for a considerable percentage of the jury awards. Alva and Alberta Pilliod were each awarded $1 Billion in punitive damages. They also received a combined $55 million in compensatory damages for their financial costs and suffering. The juries determined that Bayer – formerly Monsanto – acted with fraud and caused significant harm.