Shares of German pharmaceutical giant Bayer plunged on Monday as analysts predicted a “litigious headache” in the wake of a $289 million jury award in a cancer exposure case against its Monsanto subsidiary.
The case of a California school groundskeeper who alleged exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weedkillers, including the top-selling Roundup brand, caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was the first of more than 5,000 similar lawsuits across the U.S. to go to trial.
The jury found Mnsanto found liable for failing to warn Dewayne Johnson of the cancer risks of the pesticides, possibly setting a precedent for future awards.
Monsanto, which was acquired by Bayer earlier this year for $63 billion, said that it would appeal the verdict.
“The jury’s verdict is at odds with the weight of scientific evidence, decades of real world experience and the conclusions of regulators around the world that all confirm glyphosate is safe and does not cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” Bayer said in a statement.
But investors weighed in with their own verdict on Monday, driving Bayer’s stock price down as much as 13.5%. It closed at 83.30 euros, down 10.7% on the day.
“Whilst an appeal is certain and may indeed likely result in the penalty being moderated at a minimum if not reversed altogether, a large number of similar pending cases will now likely multiply,” Barclays analysts said.
Berenberg analyst Alistair Campbell said resolving the issue could cost Bayer $5 billion, citing past product liability settlements such as Merck’s $4.9 billion settlement over painkiller Vioxx.
As Reuters reports, “Genetically modified crops that withstand glyphosate are a main source of cash for Monsanto, mainly generated in North and South America, where the technology is widely accepted.”
“The health worries could further darken the outlook for a product category following the emergence of weeds that have grown resistant to the herbicide,” Reuters said, adding that Johnson’s case “may prompt some retailers to curb sales of Roundup products.”
Homebase, a British retailer, said it is reviewing the sale of glyphosate-containing products in the light of the jury’s decision.