By Tim Loh
Bayer AG agreed to postpone two upcoming U.S. trials involving its Roundup weedkiller to allow time for mediation talks on a possible settlement with plaintiffs.
The German agriculture giant agreed to delay two trials that were set to begin in January in California, according to an emailed statement to Bloomberg. Other Roundup trials are still scheduled to begin in the same month, Bayer said.
The competing sides had already pushed back a handful of trials scheduled for this fall amid mediation talks in the U.S. The German company has lost three U.S. trials against plaintiffs who claim that Roundup, its top-selling weedkiller, caused their cancer. Bayer has appealed those verdicts and insists the product is safe. There were 42,700 other U.S. plaintiffs suing the company over the product as of October.
Four other cases are scheduled for trials in January -- two in California state court and two in St. Louis city and county courts -- and another three trials are scheduled to start in February or March, according to Tom Claps of Susquehanna Financial Group. “If these other cases don’t settle and go to trial, it could signal that a settlement may take more time to negotiate,” he said in a note to clients.
A settlement value may be in the $10 billion to $12 billion range, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Holly Froum.
The first appeals court ruling will probably come in early 2020, though it shouldn’t affect the mediation talks much, Bayer Chief Executive Officer Werner Baumann told investors in October. In that case, a jury awarded a California man $289 million last year, which was later reduced to $79 million. News of the judgment wiped $10 billion off Bayer’s market value -- just two months after it completed the $63 billion takeover of Monsanto, the maker of Roundup.
The two postponed trials include one that had been set to start Jan. 15 in Lake County Superior Court in California and will now be delayed for about six months, Bayer said. The other was to begin Jan. 21 in California Superior Court for Alameda County.
Both cases involved plaintiffs who are under the age of 15, creating a “high-risk trial atmosphere for Bayer,” Claps said in the note.
Bayer’s shares have plunged about 30% since the Monsanto deal closed. The shares were down 0.5% at 4:09 p.m. Friday in Frankfurt.