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Richard Friedman: Monsanto Hit With $275M Verdict in Latest PCB Exposure Trial

A Seattle jury rendered its award on Thursday to six adults and seven children who alleged they suffered brain damage after being exposed to PCB, or polychlorinated biphenyls, at a school in the state of Washington.

October 13, 2022 LAW.COM staff reporter Amanda Bronstad 


A Seattle jury awarded $275 million on Thursday to six adults and seven children who alleged they suffered brain damage after being exposed to PCB, or polychlorinated biphenyls, at a school in the state of Washington.

The two-month trial is the fifth in Seattle’s King County Superior Court against Bayer’s Monsanto over exposure to PCB at the school, called Sky Valley Education Center. In the past year, juries have awarded $269 million in verdicts in three trials, but a fourth ended on July 14 in a mistrial after jurors deadlocked.

In a statement, Bayer said it would pursue post-trial motions and appeals “based on multiple errors and the lack of proof at trial.”

“The undisputed evidence in this case does not support the conclusions that plaintiffs were exposed to unsafe levels of PCBs at the Sky Valley Education Center (SVEC) or that these exposures are responsible for their alleged health issues,” the statement says. “The air and other tests in evidence reflected either no or extremely low levels of PCBs in this school, and there was no physical evidence introduced at trial showing exposure to PCBs, such as blood testing results. Indeed, the evidence introduced at trial demonstrated the plaintiffs have not experienced neuro-cognitive injuries and are leading productive, normal lives. While other acute symptoms were raised in the trial, many if not all of these symptoms were consistent with those caused by the very poor indoor air quality and building condition of the Sky Valley school buildings. In the absence of evidence of exposure or injury caused by PCBs, the jury’s verdict cannot be sustained and should be set aside in post-trial motions or appeal.”

PCB are among the most familiar of the “forever chemicals,” usually linked to water contamination and present in older school buildings. Monsanto sold most of the PCB in the United States from 1930 to 1977, two years before the Environmental Protection Agency banned the chemical.

The Seattle verdicts, which included punitive damages, all involved a school in Monroe, Washington, that allegedly exposed students, teachers and parents to PCB, which for decades was inside fluorescent light fixtures and the caulking in window sills. More than 200 plaintiffs who attended the school and their spouses have sued PCB-manufacturer Monsanto.

Bayer appealed the first PCB verdict, a $185 million jury award last year for three teachers at the school, claiming it was “marred by legal and evidentiary errors” and based on “junk science” put forth by plaintiffs’ causation experts. A second verdict, on Nov. 10, awarded $62 million to seven plaintiffs, and a third, on June 2, gave $21.4 million to three children and a handyman at the school.

‘Change the Course of the World’

Plaintiffs attorney Rick Friedman of Seattle’s Friedman Rubin, who handled the first three trials, worked with Trial Lawyers for Justice on this month’s case. The team had sought $215 million in compensatory damages, plus punitive damages.

After Thursday’s verdict, Friedman alluded that more trials are coming, saying in an email: “Four down, 16 to go.”

In her Oct. 4 closing argument, Kristen Rodriguez, a Chicago partner at Dentons representing Monsanto, questioned whether any of the plaintiffs were injured.

“As we have seen over our two months together, these plaintiffs are not injured,” she told jurors, according to coverage of the trial by Courtroom View Network. “And if they are not injured, they have not been harmed by Monsanto. And if they have not been harmed by Monsanto, then your verdict must be for Monsanto. Period.”

In his closing argument, Friedman invited jurors to “change the course of the world” with their verdict, according to CVN’s coverage.

“You will decide the legacy of PCBs,” he said. “If the legacy is that a blank-check defense of denial and deception gets you off the hook, then that will be the legacy of PCBs. But maybe, just maybe, if you hold Monsanto responsible, and if it’s held responsible enough times, held accountable enough times, maybe others who are developing chemicals will be a little more careful. Maybe even Monsanto, although that seems unlikely, will be a little more careful.”

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