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What does the glyphosate class action suit mean for my forage operation?

Paul Goeringer for Progressive Forage Published on 01 June 2020

As we move through 2020, many of you may have seen ads on TV, in print or heard a radio ad seeking plaintiffs for the glyphosate class action litigation. Suits against the manufacturers of glyphosate have resulted in three jury verdicts in favor of the plaintiffs.

These verdicts are currently under appeal, so we must wait to see if they stand. The claims in the class action are that the class action plaintiffs’ handling of glyphosate as farm employees and the active agent glyphosate has caused forms of cancer and other illnesses. Although these claims are currently focused on Bayer AG, producers should pay attention to these suits and potential impacts on their operations.

The glyphosate litigation currently has over 75,000 plaintiffs. The plaintiffs allege that using glyphosate caused illnesses including forms of cancer and other health issues. In August 2018, a California state court jury awarded a groundskeeper $289 million (later dropped to $78 million by a judge) for damages from cancer potentially linked to his on-the-job usage of glyphosate. This initial decision will be heard on appeal later this summer.

A jury awarded $80 million to another man claiming usage of glyphosate was linked to his cancer. A third state court jury awarded a couple more than $2 billion (later reduced to $86 million) in damages for illnesses linked to using glyphosate. These large verdicts in state court helped fuel the larger multistate class action lawsuit currently playing out in federal court in St. Louis.

As mentioned earlier, these current lawsuits are not to be ignored. All agricultural operators should take a moment to consider what the potential impacts of these lawsuits could be on their individual operations. Currently, the lawsuits are focused on the manufacturers, but what if a farm employee sues the operator for alleged health issues caused by using glyphosate on the farm?

First, which should go without saying, make sure your farm employees are using glyphosate according to the label. This could include ensuring equipment is up-to-date and providing proper safety equipment to employees to use any pesticides on the farm. This would also mean making sure employees are trained on how to use pesticides safely.

Keep records showing that employees have been trained in how and when new pesticides are safe to use according to the label. A lawsuit brought against you by an employee for illnesses caused by the usage of any pesticide (not just glyphosate) would potentially be a negligence lawsuit. By ensuring pesticides are handled and applied properly, the producer can help prevent a number of issues down the road, potentially including adverse health issues.

Producers should also take a look at the comprehensive liability insurance policy covering their farming operation. Check with your insurance agent to see how your current policy would handle claims by employees or others that using pesticides, including glyphosate, caused health issues. If those claims or similar claims would not be covered, do riders exist which could provide coverage?

Other considerations for producers: Do agricultural leases need to be renegotiated to spell out liability in a potential lawsuit involving pesticide usage on the farm? Landowners may want to include languages in future leases spelling out that the tenant assumes all the risks for pesticides used on the farm, including glyphosate. Landowners may want additional language that the tenant will indemnify the landowner in any claims involving the usage of pesticides on leased farmland.

These are just a few thoughts on what producers can do to protect themselves from potential lawsuits involving glyphosate or other pesticides causing health issues for farm employees. This class action lawsuit may not be resolved in the near future and could lead to lawsuits involving other herbicides used on farms. Although many of you may look at the ads and get upset, take a moment to consider how to improve your practices to prevent those lawsuits from hitting your operation.  end mark

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice.

Paul Goeringer
  • Paul Goeringer

  • Senior Faculty Specialist and Extension Legal Specialist
  • University of Maryland