Coronavirus Bogs Down Bayer's Roundup Settlement Talks

Coronavirus Bogs Down Bayer's Roundup Settlement Talks

The company has extended the weedkiller negotiations through the end of April

Bayer AG says the new coronavirus is slowing down settlement talks with tens of thousands of plaintiffs who claim its Roundup weedkiller causes cancer, the latest evidence that the pandemic is causing delays and disruptions throughout the legal system.

The company recently exercised a right to terminate a draft settlement agreement it had reached with a group of firms and extended the negotiations through April, according to a person familiar with a matter. The legal maneuver buys Bayer some time to assess the fallout from the global economic collapse caused by virus-related shutdowns.

Bayer has been under pressure to put shareholders at ease by settling claims before its annual general meeting, which it is planning to hold virtually on April 28.

As of mid-March, Bayer had reached draft settlement terms with multiple law firms representing a substantial share of plaintiffs. The parties have been discussing a roughly $10 billion settlement.

But in the past couple of weeks, that progress has largely stalled, according to people familiar with the matter.

A spokesman for Bayer said: "The mediation process has significantly slowed, and realistically, we expect this will continue to be the case for the immediate future." He said that restrictions imposed to help reduce the spread of the virus have caused meeting cancellations and other delays.

"We cannot speculate about potential outcomes from the negotiations or timing, given the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic and the confidentiality of this process, but we remain committed to engaging in mediation in good faith," he said.

The company is unlikely to agree to a final settlement unless it has reached agreement with most of the plaintiffs in the case, so that it can put the litigation to rest.

Ken Feinberg, the court-appointed mediator in the case, said, "I am optimistic that the settlement negotiations will be successful, but the coronavirus and public health take precedence."

Courts across the country have indefinitely delayed civil jury trials, which involve gathering hundreds of people in a room at one time for jury selection and often flying in attorneys and witnesses from around the country. Attorneys say the suspension of these trials has reduced pressure on defendants to settle cases quickly, knowing there is little imminent risk that they will face expensive and reputationally damaging trials.

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