Non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients who believe exposure to the herbicide glyphosate caused their disease are unlikely to win huge US-style legal damages claims, Australian lawyers say.
Aside from doubtful scientific evidence linking glyphosate with haematological cancers, the Australian legal system does not provide for the enormous punitive damages seen in US cases against the chemical giant Monasnto, according to Christine Covington and Chris Pagent from Corrs Chamber Westgarth.
Writing on legal website Lexology they said there have been no Australian personal injury claims over the herbicide Roundup, which has glyphosate as its active ingredient.
Their commentary was published as a US jury trial awarded over US$2 billion (around AU$2.9 billion) to a California couple who claimed that usage of the Monsanto product between 1975 and 2011 had caused their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
It was the third consecutive damages payout for the Bayer-owned company. The two earlier court decisions in California awarded a total of US$250 million (AU$357 million) in punitive damages to two plaintiffs who had been regularly exposed to the weedkiller through their work.
The product has been the subject of many legal claims in the US alleging it had caused NHL among regular users, and the latest estimate is that as many as 13,400 legal cases are pending.
The first legal case found that Monsanto had been aware of glyphosate’s potential health risks and covered up the information. The second concluded that the product lacked sufficient warning labels and that the company had been negligent in not including those warnings.
In their article, the Australian lawyers said US litigation had “provoked national discussion on the potential health impacts” of glyphosate and “it is possible we may see similar cases here, and perhaps even a class action”.
But, they said the risk of such claims in Australia is relatively low in contrast to the US, where judgments are notable for their substantial punitive awards.
“While punitive damages are available in Australia, they are much rarer, and generally far more conservative,” they said.
And because it was difficult to establish causation in this type of case, a class action may not proceed due of the lack of a common thread amongst potential claimants, with each class member likely to have their own persona story to tell on exposure.
They noted that the International Agency for Research on Cancers (IARC) concluded in 2015 that glyphosate is ‘”probably carcinogenic to humans”.
However in 2017 the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) concluded that Roundup does not pose a cancer risk to humans if used according to label instructions.
Despite this finding, the Cancer Council Australia has called for further research and investigation into glyphosate “and its potentially causative relationship with NHL”.