ST. LOUIS • A jury on Wednesday awarded $17.5 million in damages to three plaintiffs and assessed $29 million more in punitive damages against Monsanto and three other companies in a suit here alleging negligence in the production of PCBs.
The 10-2 verdict in St. Louis Circuit Court ended a nearly-monthlong trial in one of a string of suits — some won by the defendants and some pending.
This case, which went on trial April 28, involved just three of nearly 100 plaintiffs claiming that exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Some died and their claims were made by surviving relatives.
The lawsuit claims Monsanto knew about the dangers decades ago but falsely told the public the compounds were safe, and continued selling it into the 1970s. Rivers, streams and some food humans consume still contain some levels of PCBs.
“This is the future,” said plaintiffs’ lawyer Steven Kherkher, of Houston. “People don’t know that PCBs cause cancer and that Monsanto has been suppressing it.”
Monsanto issued a statement saying, “We have deep sympathy for the plaintiffs but we are disappointed by the jury’s decision and plan to immediately appeal today’s ruling.”
It continues: “Previous juries in four straight similar trials rejected similar claims by attorneys that those plaintiffs contracted non-Hodgkin lymphoma as a result of eating food containing PCBs. The evidence simply does not support today’s verdict, including the fact that scientists say more than 90 percent of non-Hodgkin lymphoma cases have no known cause.”
The plaintiffs in this trial are from Alaska, Michigan and Oklahoma. Only three among the larger group are from Missouri, including one from St. Louis.
Monsanto was the primary U.S. manufacturer of PCBs from 1935 until 1977, two years before Congress banned production, according to the suit. PCBs were used in numerous products, including industrial equipment, food packaging and paint.
The old Monsanto Chemical Co. that made PCBs no longer exists. But Creve Coeur-based Monsanto, which now engineers agricultural seeds and makes herbicides, is handling PCB claims. The other defendants are Solutia, spun off by old Monsanto in 1997; Pharmacia, which absorbed part of the old Monsanto; and Pfizer, which merged with Pharmacia in 2003.
Juror Nathan Nevius, 25, a waiter, said after the verdict, “All of us could pretty much agree that Monsanto was negligent.”
Another juror, Ashley Enochs, 24, said, “I think it goes to show that large companies can put stuff out there that’s harmful and they can do it for along time but that justice is going to be served whether it’s a year after the products are put out, or in this case, 80 years.”
Last month, a Los Angeles jury rejected claims against Monsanto over non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In July, a St. Louis County jury found Monsanto was not liable in deaths and illnesses suffered by people who were exposed.
The city of Spokane, Wash., filed a similar lawsuit last year, and in January, Seattle sued Monsanto over costs of PCB cleanup. Those cases are pending.