A 44-year-old Elk River man is among the latest Minnesotans to join a nationwide flood of plaintiffs suing Monsanto Co., claiming the company’s blockbuster Roundup weedkiller caused their cancers.
Jeffrey Sabraski is one of 13,400 plaintiffs with federal or state Roundup lawsuits pending against Monsanto around the country. Most of them have a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. At least four cases, including a wrongful-death suit filed Wednesday, originated in Minnesota.
Sabraski sprayed Roundup several times a week over the past two summers, often wearing shorts and a T-shirt, to control weeds around buildings as part of his job as a maintenance and grounds-keeper foreman at Thies and Talle Management Inc., according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Minnesota. He was diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2018.
Sabraski’s case, like three others filed in Minnesota, will be automatically transferred to federal court in San Francisco, where federal Roundup cases are being consolidated. About 1,000 cases are now pending there.
The vast majority of the Roundup cases are filed in state courts around the country, including many in Missouri, where Monsanto is based, said Yvonne Flaherty, partner at Lockridge Grindal Nauen and chairwoman of the firm’s mass tort litigation practice. The Minneapolis firm filed two cases for plaintiffs Wednesday.
The lawsuits don’t just allege that the weedkiller caused cancer, but that Monsanto concealed and misrepresented information to regulators and consumers about the product’s safety.
Roundup is one of the world’s most widely used herbicides, used by gardeners on lawns and farmers on crops. With Roundup Ready seeds engineered by Monsanto, farmers can spray the herbicide on glyphosate-resistant crops, such as corn and soybeans, killing nearby weeds without harming the crops.
Though it is widely used, the product’s active ingredient, the chemical glyphosate, remains highly controversial for its links to health hazards and threats to vulnerable wildlife such as monarch butterflies.
A spokeswoman for Bayer, the German chemical company that owns Monsanto, issued a company statement saying it will defend its product in court, while complying with a federal court order to start mediation with a group of plaintiffs.
“As this litigation is still in the early stages — with no cases that have run their course through appeal — we will also remain focused on defending the safety of glyphosate-based herbicides in court,” the company said. “We continue to believe strongly in the extensive body of reliable science that supports the safety of Roundup and on which regulators around the world continue to base their own independent and favorable assessments.”
Sabraski did not want to discuss the case, said Tony Nemo, his lawyer at Meshbesher & Spence. Nemo said Sabraski received several cycles of chemotherapy and that his cancer is now in remission.
The Meshbesher firm is also representing Charles and Connie Larsen of Mankato, who sued Monsanto last November, claiming Roundup resulted in Charles Larsen’s follicular grade 1 non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Larsen used Roundup from 2005 to 2011 while working as a maintenance foreman for Minnesota Pork Inc., applying it around farm buildings from an ATV-mounted spraying apparatus.
Nemo said he expects to file more lawsuits.
Stunning losses dealt to Monsanto in the first three Roundup cases to go to trial have sparked more public interest. The three trials were all in California — two in state courts and one in federal court.
In the latest verdict, earlier this month, a state court jury in Oakland ordered Monsanto to pay Alva and Alberta Pilliod $2 billion in punitive damages and $55 million in compensatory damages. The sums will almost certainly be reduced by the courts, as were the first two damage awards.
“We’ve seen a dramatic uptick in calls to our office,” Nemo said.
Flaherty, too, said she expects more cases to be filed in Minnesota.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco appointed Kenneth Feinberg to lead court-mandated settlement talks with Bayer in the federal litigation. Feinberg has led some of the country’s highest-profile mediations, including talks for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
In April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded that glyphosate is not a carcinogen and doesn’t pose a threat to the public when it is used according to its current label.
That assessments runs counter to a growing body of science that has linked glyphosate to cancer in humans. For example, in 2015 the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, classified glyphosate as a probable cause of cancer in humans.
The lawsuits continue to pile up. On Wednesday, the Minneapolis firm of Lockridge Grindal Nauen filed two more cases in federal court in Minnesota.
In one, Brian Kreiner claims he used Roundup as directed in Minnesota “on properties in and around Nisswa, Minnesota from approximately 1998 to 2013.” He was later diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and went through medical treatment.
In the other, the wife and daughter of Donald Peterson sued the company over Peterson’s death. Esther Peterson of Battle Lake and Heidi Genereaux of North Dakota claimed that Donald Peterson used Roundup in and around Battle Lake for more than a decade before developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Staff writer Brandon Stahl contributed to this report.
Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683