If you're thinking about filing a lawsuit over your use of Roundup, understanding your options starts with getting a sense of the current legal landscape surrounding the compound called “glyphosate” and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Roundup, one of the most popular weed killing products in the U.S. (and the world), relies on the active ingredient glyphosate, a chemical compound discovered in the early 1970s. Glyphosate is fairly unique among "herbicides" (vegetation-killing chemicals) in that it doesn't target weeds or any other specific kind of plant. Instead, glyphosate is a "non-selective" herbicide, meaning it kills all plants or crops it comes into contact with.
Monsanto started manufacturing Roundup in the mid-1970s, but it wasn't until 1996 that product sales really took off. That's when the company started marketing seeds that were genetically modified to resist glyphosate. This meant Roundup could be used on and around crops, ornamental plants, and flowers, which could continue to thrive while weeds and other invasive kinds of vegetation were eliminated. Today, Roundup is found on the shelves of most "big box" home improvement centers and neighborhood hardware stores—favored by farmers, groundskeepers, and backyard gardeners alike.
In 2018, German pharmaceutical giant Bayer bought Roundup creator and manufacturer Monsanto, and ended up inheriting all of Monsanto's emerging Roundup-related legal problems. The safety of pesticides and herbicides has been under scrutiny for decades, but in 2015 the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced a new classification of glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic" (meaning it likely causes cancer).
By the time Bayer bought Monsanto in 2018, thousands of lawsuits linking Roundup to the development of a form of cancer known as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma had been filed in courts nationwide. (The business entity known as "Monsanto" no longer exists, though the name appears to live on in court filings related to Roundup litigation.)
That same year, in the first of these cases to go to trial, a California jury found in favor of Dewayne Johnson, a 46-year-old groundskeeper who worked at a number of California schools. Johnson's attorneys argued that he developed non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after using Roundup on the job, and alleged a scientific connection between the product and the illness. The jury stopped short of finding a clear causal link between Johnson's use of glyphosate and his cancer, instead finding that Bayer/Monsanto had failed to do enough to warn Johnson of the risk that Roundup could cause cancer. Bayer/Monsanto was ordered to pay $289 million in damages. That award has twice been reduced on appeal (to $20.5 million), but Bayer/Monsanto's liability has been upheld both times. (Learn more about different kinds of damages in a personal injury case.)
The only other two Roundup lawsuits to reach the trial stage as of September 2020 have also ended in big wins for the plaintiffs (as it happens, all three trials have been held in California courts):
Thousands of Roundup lawsuits have been filed in state courts nationwide. In a number of states, Roundup lawsuits have been consolidated. For example, in California's Alameda County, a civil case coordination action includes hundreds of Roundup lawsuits.
But the largest single consolidation of Roundup claims is the federal "multidistrict litigation" (MDL) action, which includes thousands of lawsuits. The MDL (called "In re: Roundup Products Liability Litigation") is being handled by Judge Vince Chhabria in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Note that this MDL also includes many cases originally filed in state court and later "removed" to the MDL, usually at Bayer/Monsanto's request. (See below for information on this MDL as compared to a class action lawsuit.)
Roundup has not been subject to any widespread product recall, and it remains on store shelves nationwide (though Costco appears to have stopped carrying glyphosate products).
There's been little in the way of changes to Roundup labeling, either, and no mention of cancer risk. California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment listed glyphosate as cancer-causing in 2017, but in July 2020 a federal court judge in California prevented state officials from requiring that Roundup contain a prominent "Prop 65" safety warning. (Prop 65 warnings come from a 1986 state ballot initiative requiring California businesses to provide warnings to consumers about products that could bring significant exposure to chemicals that cause cancer and birth defects).
While there's no mention of cancer risks, various iterations of Roundup warning labels have stated:
In order to file a personal injury lawsuit against Bayer/Monsanto or another manufacturer of glyphosate products, you'll almost certainly need to demonstrate that you've been diagnosed with an illness (such as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma) that might be attributable to your exposure to the herbicide.
The mere fact that you've used Roundup or have a bottle of it in your house isn't enough to file an injury- or illness-related lawsuit against Bayer/Monsanto. It's also not enough to be concerned over Bayer/Monsanto's failure to properly warn consumers of potential risks inherent to use of the product. There may be other non-injury kinds of class actions you can join in those situations, but the Roundup MDL and other illness-related lawsuits against Bayer/Monsanto require measurable harm caused by the product.
Diagnosis of a Roundup-related illness like non-Hodgkin's lymphoma goes straight to the nature and extent of your losses ("damages" in legalese). The plaintiff in a Roundup case almost always experiences both "economic" damages (including the cost of past and future medical treatment, lost income, and other quantifiable losses) and "noneconomic" damages such as "pain and suffering" and similar, more subjective impacts related to the Roundup-related health problems. It's obviously a good idea to see a doctor at the first sign of any glyphosate-related health problems—to protect not only your legal rights, but also your health. The specifics of your health problems are critical to shaping the value of your Roundup case, and it all starts with an accurate diagnosis.
Most lawsuits over the safety of Roundup rely on a personal injury fault theory known as "product liability," which can be used to hold manufacturers like Bayer/Monsanto responsible for illness and injury caused by a dangerous or defective product, or for failure to adequately warn consumers of risks associated with the product's use.
In a number of lawsuits in which plaintiffs allege that their illness was caused by use of Roundup, Bayer/Monsanto has asked the court to essentially dismiss any allegations that the product causes cancer. But most of these requests have been denied, on the grounds that a reasonable jury could potentially find that glyphosate causes cancer.
There's a significant liability-related theme threaded through the Roundup lawsuits that have gone to trial and resulted in big verdicts for the plaintiffs. In all three of those cases, the juries didn't conclude that glyphosate caused the plaintiffs' non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Instead, they found that Bayer/Monsanto didn't do enough to warn the plaintiffs of the potential health risks associated with use of Roundup.
Science aside, the juries’ conclusions bring up an important point that's more practical than legal: From Bayer/Monsanto's perspective, more so than any study or agency finding, the three big jury verdicts against the company likely represent the most damaging indication of its exposure to financial responsibility for Roundup-related illness.
Learn more about filing a Roundup-cancer lawsuit.
Like all injury-related legal claims, the value of a Roundup lawsuit will depend on the plaintiff's specific circumstances and experience, including:
Get more tips on determining the value of a Roundup case.
Time limits for filing a Roundup lawsuit are set by a law called a "statute of limitations." In some states, the statute-of-limitations deadline that will apply to a Roundup lawsuit is the same as the one that applies to most personal injury lawsuits. But other states have a separate statute of limitations for product liability lawsuits. Whichever statute applies, you'll typically have two to three years to get your lawsuit filed (the deadline is shorter in some states, longer in a few), but it's not always easy to figure out when the "clock" starts ticking in a Roundup case.
A lawsuit over the safety of a product like Roundup isn't like most other kinds of personal injury cases. If you're hurt in a car accident, for example, your injuries typically make themselves known right away, and there's little doubt about the cause of your harm. With product-related injuries, especially cases involving illness linked to chemicals like glyphosate, there's often a gap between the exposure to the harmful chemical and the onset of a disease or other health problem caused by that product. When it comes to cancers like non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, there's even a term for this gap: "latency period."
This latency is a big reason why the statute of limitations "clock" might not necessarily start running on the date of the plaintiff's last use of Roundup. Under the "discovery rule" in most states, the clock might start only when the plaintiff discovers (or should reasonably have discovered) that they were harmed by Roundup. That date might coincide with a diagnosis of a health problem caused by exposure to glyphosate, or the plaintiff's first experience of symptoms of such a health problem (alongside indications that glyphosate may be linked to those symptoms). But keep in mind that if a significant number of years have passed between your last use of Roundup and the onset of your illness, another time limit called the "statute of repose" might prevent you from bringing a case against Bayer/Monsanto.
Regardless of how long it’s been since you used Roundup, talk to an attorney for details on lawsuit-filing deadlines and how they might apply to your specific situation.
An important way to establish your use of Roundup is through documentation. That could mean receipts showing that you purchased the product for use at your home, or written employment protocols, work orders, or invoices if you used Roundup as part of your job.
If you've got bank statements or other financial records showing you made a purchase at a home improvement or gardening store on a particular day, you might be able to contact the store and ask if there's an itemized record of your transaction showing that you purchased Roundup. If you've got empty or partially used bottles of Roundup, those might come in handy too.
But as a practical matter, it's pretty unlikely that Bayer/Monsanto's legal team will pour time and resources into a significant fight over whether or not you actually used Roundup. That's especially true if you've been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma or some other cancer. It's more likely that Bayer/Monsanto's legal team will argue that you failed to follow labeling and instructions on proper use of the product (including specific guidelines on safe ratios for mixing concentrated Roundup with water). The company may also try to argue that you failed to take reasonable safety precautions—like use of a face mask or protective clothing—when applying Roundup.
In addition to Bayer/Monsanto, an employer might be liable for an employee's illness caused by on-the-job use of Roundup or another glyphosate product. That's especially true if a lack of proper safety equipment (or defects in the equipment provided to you) made it more likely that you'd inhale or come into direct contact with higher levels of glyphosate. But keep in mind that if you've already accepted workers' compensation benefits in connection with your glyphosate-related illness, or if you're still working for the employer, you might not be able to sue for on-the-job exposure to glyphosate—a workers' compensation claim could be your exclusive remedy. (This potential workers’ compensation issue is another point to discuss with an attorney.)
Note that if your lawsuit involves a defendant other than Bayer/Monsanto (if you're also suing your employer, for example), that fact might affect your options in terms of where you can file your lawsuit. A number of Roundup lawsuits have been removed from the massive federal MDL and "remanded" back to state court for this very reason (plaintiffs were suing employers in their own state, along with Bayer/Monsanto). Most of those lawsuits will proceed as individual cases back in the state where the plaintiff lives.
There is no class action involving claims that use of Roundup or exposure to glyphosate caused illness or injury. The closest thing to a Roundup class action is the MDL discussed above, but even that is a consolidated group of individual cases in which the plaintiffs still largely control their own legal destinies. In a class action, one or a few individuals represent the interests of all class members, and everyone in the class is bound by the result.
There has been at least one class action over Roundup's labeling (including allegations that language about health risks is misleading), but class members weren't claiming any health problems or other injuries in that lawsuit.
It's important to note that a $10.9 billion settlement agreement is on the table in the Roundup MDL, and part of the deal would set aside a big chunk of money for a class action by consumers who have used Roundup and may develop health problems in the future.
The parties in the big MDL collection of consolidated Roundup lawsuits reached a $10.9 billion settlement agreement in June 2020. Most of the money covers 95% of MDL cases already set for trial, with $1.25 billion set aside to cover future plaintiffs who could have illness-related lawsuits against Bayer/Monsanto in years to come.
But, in September 2020, Judge Chhabria (who is overseeing the MDL) expressed a number of concerns over the agreement, how it might apply to future cases, and the propriety of using a proposed "class science panel" to decide issues that are typically resolved via the court process, including:
The class science panel's determinations would be binding on any class action created under the terms of the settlement agreement, meaning that if the panel finds that glyphosate causes cancer, Bayer/Monsanto would be barred from disputing that finding. It's not clear how the money would be divided up under the proposed $10.9 billion agreement, but sources told The New York Times that, depending on the strength of a given case, claimants can expect to receive anywhere from $5,000 to $250,000 each under the terms of the settlement.
A new wrinkle came in February 2020, when Bayer announced a proposed $2 billion agreement to resolve future Roundup lawsuits through a compensation program that would pay future claimants around $5,000 to $200,000 each. According to the Wall Street Journal, the program would be limited to claimants who aren't represented by a lawyer, but future claimants can also opt out of the settlement and file a lawsuit against Bayer.
A big part of Judge Chhabria's objections to the $10.9B settlement related to the rights of future claimants, it looks like the parties have tried to address those concerns by including opt-out provisions. We'll have to wait and see whether Judge Chhabria signs off on this latest version of the deal.
For now, if you're experiencing health problems that could be linked to your use of a glyphosate product like Roundup, it's important to get a complete picture of your rights and your options. Your best first step is discussing your situation with an attorney.