James Shott / September 11, 2018

Corporate Deep Pockets Attract Attention in Legal Actions

Millions of Americans hate big corporations, suspect them of acting in their own best interest (to the detriment of the rest of us), and delight in corporations being put in their place.

Millions of Americans hate big corporations, suspect them of acting in their own best interest (to the detriment of the rest of us), and delight in corporations being put in their place. Sometimes they have good reasons for this; sometimes not. But let’s face it: Legal actions against these corporate giants are sometimes justified and give people harmed by a product or action of a corporation deserved monetary compensation.

With that in mind, farmfutures.com reports: “Lee Johnson, a former school groundskeeper whose doctors didn’t think he’d live long enough [to] learn the verdict, prevailed Friday in San Francisco state court after jurors deliberated for three days” on his damage suit.

The story went on to say that the “trial was an important test of the evidence against Monsanto and will serve as a template for litigating thousands of other claims” over Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.

Johnson got less than he was asking, being awarded only $39 million of the $412 million he sought in damages. An additional $250 million was added to punish Monsanto after finding it liable for a design defect and failing to warn consumers of Roundup’s risks. Monsanto has said it will appeal the award.

Roundup is the world’s most popular and widely used herbicide, and its main ingredient — glyphosate — was approved for use way back in 1974. Monsanto defends the ingredient as perfectly safe; however, a cadre of opponents of glyphosate that includes environmentalists, regulators, researchers, and lawyers hotly challenge that claim.

The Wall Street Journal added some important information to this story. An editorial described the plaintiff’s attorneys’ approach to persuading the jury of Monsanto’s responsibility in Johnson’s cancer as “junk science.”

The Journal went on to explain “there’s overwhelming scientific evidence that glyphosate does not cause cancer” and quoted the Journal of National Cancer Institute study of 45,000 licensed pesticide applicators exposed to glyphosate, which found “no evidence of an association between glyphosate use and risk of any solid tumors or lymphoid malignancies including non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”

The editorial further cited the Environmental Protection Agency as concluding that glyphosate is safe. “In December 2017, the US Environmental Protection Agency released the draft human health risk assessment for glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup,” according to North Carolina State University’s Patrick Maxwell, M.S. and Travis Gannon, Ph.D. “The human health assessment concluded that ‘glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans’ and found ‘no other meaningful risks to human health’ when used in accordance with label instructions,” they wrote.
 This seems to be a classic case of “he said, he said.” Both sides have advocates with solid credentials who advocate each position.

Sometimes, however, emotions trump factual evidence. And who isn’t sympathetic to Lee Johnson, whose cancer may end his life early? There is also the factor of which legal team did its job best.

But then there’s the very real factor that big companies have deep pockets, and therefore are prime targets. A good example of this is the current rampant overuse of drugs, and the blame often is laid at the feet of Big Pharma.

Pharmaceutical companies’ business is identifying serious medical problems affecting lots of people and working to develop drugs to help them, not to hurt them. Our government has implemented a long, slow process to require drugs to meet strict Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards before they are approved for use.

Even the government, however, cannot prevent the misuse of items for sale, and virtually everything can be dangerous under the right circumstances. Step ladders, baseballs, and automobiles are all sometimes dangerous.

It also cannot guarantee that drugs might not end up in the hands of someone who is allergic to one or more of them. People are allergic to milk, vitamin C, sunshine, and nearly everything else.

A single drug getting to market on average results from100 or more formulas developed for testing. Promising formulas must get through a process that takes on average 12 to 15 years and costs $1 billion to $2 billion. And they only get patent protection for a maximum of 20 years from the time it is applied for, which frequently occurs early in the testing process.

This leaves a relatively short time to recoup the sky-high research costs. The company needs money to invest in finding the next needed drug.

Why would companies send out millions of doses of an expensive product, as they are accused of, without someone ordering and paying for it? Yet, state attorneys general and other attorneys are suing drug companies, blaming them for the drug epidemic.

It seems more reasonable to look at prescribing physicians, drug distributors, and outright criminal conduct for how and why these drugs are available to people to use them improperly, resulting in much suffering and needless death.

All of which is not to say that large companies don’t sometimes do things wrong. And when that happens, they should be punished.

But they should not be an automatic target of lawsuits, as they often are.

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