CVN screenshot of defense attorney Anthony Upshaw delivering his closing statement on behalf of Monsanto in a previously recorded PCB-related trial
Seattle, WA - Bayer-owned Monsanto faces opening statements next Tuesday in Washington state court in a trial alleging long-lasting carcinogenic chemicals in a school building put the health of numerous teachers and students at risk.
The lawsuit, filed by three former teachers at the Sky Valley School and one of their spouses, alleges the Monroe School District chose to continue operating the deteriorating facility despite knowing as far back as 2007 it was badly contaminated with synthetic chemicals called Polychlorinated Biphenyls, or PCBs. Monsanto, the school district and the Snohomish Health District face accusations of withholding information about the health risks associated with PCB exposure from the public, though Monsnato will be the sole defendant at the trial.
Before being banned in the 1970’s, PCBs were used for a wide range of industrial purposes, from fire insulation to food packaging. Agrochemical giant Monsanto was the sole US manufacturer of PCB’s, which the Environmental Protection Agency now considers dangerous toxic carcinogens.
According to the lawsuit students and teachers in the school suffered a variety of health problems ranging from eye and throat irritation to fatal cancer. Two teachers contracted cancer since 2011, the complaint states, and two students have died of the disease. Other teachers and students allegedly suffered numerous other health issues including headaches, tremors, depression and gastrointestinal problems.
“The frequency and severity of the symptoms appeared to be positively correlated with the vulnerability of the individual and the amount of time spent in the school buildings,” the complaint states. “The symptoms and diseases worsened over time for these individuals.”
Monsanto denies the allegations, claiming the level of PCB exposure at the school was low and that plaintiffs' alleged injuries could be the result of other safety issues at the 70-year-old facility, like mold.
The trial will be webcast gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network from the start of opening statements forward. The case is expected to be closely-watched as one of the largest in-person toxic tort trials to take place since the nationwide Cover-19 court shutdown in March.
The proceedings will provide a good test case for the practicality of social distancing on a large scale in a long-running, complex trial. The trial will take place in a large convention center normally used for events like auctions and trade shows in order to accommodate spacing for jurors and the phalanx of attorneys representing the parties.
Substantively the trial will be similar to two cases webcast and recorded by CVN in California in 2016 involving exposure to PCB chemicals. Juries delivered defense verdicts for Monsanto in both cases, which are available for gavel-to-gavel viewing by CVN subscribers as part of CVN’s trial video archive.
In the current case, the plaintiffs accuse Monsanto of having substantial knowledge for years of the cancer risks associated with PCB’s but withholding that information to protect profits.
“Monsanto profited for decades by producing and promoting PCBs, and Monsanto continues to have a strong financial interest in denying the environmental dangers and health hazards associated with toxic contamination caused by Monsanto’s PCBs,” the complaint states.
A Monsanto spokesman disputed the allegations, noting that Monsanto ceased production of PCB chemicals decades ago, and that the compounds were used by many other companies.
“There is no basis in law that requires a manufacturer of a component part to warn the customers of their customers’ finished products, which is the extreme legal theory that underpins this case,” the company stated.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs declined to comment.
The trial is taking place before Judge Kristin Richardson and is expected to take until mid-to-late December to complete. All public proceedings from openings forward will be available both live and on-demand via CVN.
The plaintiffs are represented by Friedman Rubin PLLP.
Bayer/Monsanto is represented by Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt, Capes Sokol, and White & Williams LLP.
The Monroe School District is represented by Patterson Buchanan Fobes & Leitch and Wood Smith Henning & Berman.
The Snohomish Health District is represented by Evans Craven & Lackie P.S.
The case is captioned Kerry L. Erickson, et al. v. Monsanto Company, et al., case number 18-2-11915-4 in the Superior Court for the State of Washington in King County.
E-mail David Siegel at email@example.com