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Bayer Agrees To Settle Thousands Of Lawsuits Filed Over Its Weed Killer

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The company Bayer announced today that it will pay roughly $10 billion to people who say they got cancer after using the company's most widely used weed killer. NPR's Dan Charles has that story.

DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: The herbicide glyphosate, also called Roundup, was invented by the company Monsanto more than 40 years ago. It's become one of the most widely used agricultural chemicals in the world. But five years ago, an international scientific group, part of the World Health Organization, concluded that it probably can cause cancer. There's a lot of scientific debate about this. Government agencies in the U.S. and Europe looked at the evidence, too, and they decided the opposite, that Roundup does not cause cancer. But across the country, people started seeing ads on television like this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after being exposed to Roundup or a glyphosate herbicide, you may be entitled to compensation.

CHARLES: Thousands of people filed claims against Monsanto. And when the German company Bayer decided to buy Monsanto in 2016, it inherited that liability. When the first cases went to trial, Bayer lost big. Juries awarded cancer victims tens of millions of dollars. Bayer's stock tumbled. The company is appealing those verdicts, but today it announced a deal with lawyers representing over 100,000 people. It will pay about $9 billion to settle the rest of those claims, plus more than $1 billion to cover claims from people who may come forward in the future.

Alexandra Lahav from the University of Connecticut School of Law says this settlement probably will be a landmark in product liability litigation. She says it's one of the 10 biggest settlements ever, and it's interesting legally.

ALEXANDRA LAHAV: In each of these sort of blockbuster cases, you have this kind of evolution in how lawyers and companies are thinking about managing this risk.

CHARLES: For instance, this settlement sets up a fund that's supposed to handle all future claims so Bayer can tell its investors they won't be surprised by more litigation. And Elizabeth Burch from the University of Georgia Law School says another innovation is an independent science panel will look at how much exposure qualifies people for money.

ELIZABETH BURCH: Once it renders a decision, which apparently can be several years in the future, that's supposed to bind plaintiffs and defendants to whatever its ultimate opinion will be.

CHARLES: A federal judge will have to approve parts of the settlement, and people who have claims will have to decide whether to accept their share of this deal or pursue more litigation.

Dan Charles, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID BAZAN SONG, "HARD TO BE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.