A Missouri court has ordered Bayer and BASF to pay US$265 million in damages and fines after it was found that a peach farmer lost his orchard because dicamba drifted onto his property.
The ruling is the first in around 140 cases pending in the US court system, in which dicamba is being blamed for crop damage.
Peach farmer Bill Bader sued Bayer and BASF, claiming that dicamba drifted onto his orchard from nearby cotton and soybean farms. Mr Bader claimed that he noticed trees dying or becoming weakened from dicamba from 2015, with repeated exposure wiping out his 1,000-acre orchard – the largest in Missouri.
Mr Bader was awarded US$15 million in damages, while Bayer and BASF were ordered to pay a further US$250 million in punitive damages.
Attorney Billy Randles, who represented Mr Bader in court, said that Bayer and BASF are facing several other similar dicamba lawsuits later on this year in the same court, potentially with the same presiding judge.
“These are all the same allegations”, said Randles. “The claim negligent design, failure to warn and all allege a joint venture between Bayer and BASF. The jury found the two equally liable for the damages.”
The ruling intensifies the legal woes for both companies, with Bayer currently facing multi-trillion-dollar litigation over the chemicals dicamba and glyphosate. In the weeks after the court’s decision, a federal class action law suit was lodged on behalf of a growing group of farmers concerned about the implications of dicamba.
“We now have the road map to get justice for dicamba victims. The Bader verdict in Missouri sent a clear signal that you can’t profit off of hurting innocent farmers and get away with it,” said Joseph Peiffer, the lead attorney on the class action.
The increasing volume of legal cases is taking its toll on chemical manufacturers, with a drop in the value of Bayer share prices over the last year. In July 2019, Bayer admitted that the number of pending lawsuits had grown from 13,400 to 18,400 in just three months.
Last year, Australian farmer Ross Wild filed a law suit claiming that exposure to glyphosate caused him to develop Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It is the first time an Australian farmer has launched legal proceedings against Bayer, who are fighting up to 20,000 cases in the US.
Tony Carbone, the lawyer representing Mr Wild, has also lodged a case on behalf of Michael Ogliarolo, a landscaper diagnosed with cancer.
“I’m pretty confident that more people will come forward,” said Mr Carbone.
“These are very sick people [who] deserve to be compensated – why should Australians be treated any differently to Americans?”