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Bayer AG has publicly said it has no intention of settling thousands of U.S. lawsuits claiming its Roundup weed killer causes cancer, even amid two consecutive trial losses. It’s now being forced to try.

More than 11,200 people have sued Bayer over Roundup in U.S. state and federal courts. The judge in San Francisco handling the federal suits ordered Bayer and lawyers representing plaintiffs in the litigation to participate in confidential mediation as he canceled a trial scheduled for May 20 that would have followed an $80 million verdict against Bayer last month.

“The parties should propose a mediator,” U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria wrote in an order Thursday. “If they cannot agree, the court will appoint someone.”

Chhabria said in lieu of the May trial, resources are better spent organizing the cases collected in the multidistrict litigation before him, meaning determining which of those lawsuits should be dismissed, which should be sent to state courts, and sending other cases back to where they were originally filed for trials in federal court.

Bayer fell as much as 1.1 percent in Frankfurt trading Friday.

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Thomas G. Rohback, a trial lawyer at Axinn in New York, said in an email that Chhabria’s order requiring mediation isn’t unusual, and cautioned against reading too much into it leading to a settlement anytime soon.

But he also pointed to the privacy of mediation, and how that could permit Bayer to resolve the litigation without the multimillion-dollar headlines the trials have produced. Analysts predict a settlement could top $5 billion.

“The confidentiality – which is also quite common – could help Bayer pay a settlement amount without making that public,” Rohback said. “Of course, the key is whether the parties can reach an agreement.”

Chris Loder, a spokesman for Bayer, said the company will comply with the court’s order for mediation “in good faith.”

“As this litigation is still in the early stages – with only two verdicts and no cases that have run their course through appeal – we will also remain focused on defending the safety of glyphosate-based herbicides in court.”

In addition to the March verdict in Chhabria’s court, Bayer lost the first Roundup trial last summer in state court and was ordered to pay $78.6 million in damages. Another state court trial is under way in Oakland, California.

The judge set a May 22 hearing to discuss mediation efforts and possibly set a new date for the canceled trial.

Michael Baum, a lawyer representing plaintiffs in the cases before Chhabria, said in an email that it’d be “prudent and responsible” for Bayer to settle the litigation. Though the company is outwardly denying the evidence against it, internally it may be “more accurately assessing Roundup’s risks” and shareholder pressure, he said.

The case is In re: Roundup Products Liability Litigation, MDL 2741, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

(Updates with Frankfurt trading in fifth paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Joel Rosenblatt in San Francisco at jrosenblatt@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Elizabeth Wollman at ewollman@bloomberg.net

2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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