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Richard Friedman: BREAKING: Seattle Jury Awards $72M In Latest Monsanto PCB Trial

By Greg Lamm ·

Law360, Seattle (July 14, 2023, 9:25 PM EDT) -- A Seattle jury ruled Friday that Monsanto should pay $72 million in damages to two plaintiffs who alleged exposure to PCB contamination from a school's old fluorescent light fixtures caused chronic neurological injuries, a verdict rendered after nearly a week of deliberations that led one juror to say in open court there was tension in the jury room.

The jury awarded $12 million in total compensatory damages and $60 million in total punitive damages to two of the seven plaintiffs who sued Monsanto, according to the verdict form that was read from the bench by King County Superior Court Judge Jim Rogers.

The 12-member panel found that Monsanto supplied a product that was unreasonably safe as constructed and unreasonably safe as designed. The jury also found that the products lacked adequate warnings and caused injury to two of the plaintiffs.

With Friday's decision, the chemical giant is now facing more than $700 million in verdicts for teachers and students who say they were exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, at the school near Seattle.

There were indications Friday that deliberations were tense. A juror told Judge Rogers she was having financial hardship because she had gone seven weeks without a paycheck during the trial that started back in May. The juror also told the judge that there were "personalities in there that are triggering me," but she said she thought she could continue to serve, at least through Friday.

By mid afternoon, the jurors told Judge Rogers they were deadlocked on some of the questions on the jury form. They asked to meet with the judge, who cut them off before they could elaborate and instructed them to go back and keep deliberating.

"We can't have a question-and-answer in here, if that is what you are asking," Judge Rogers said, telling the jurors that their deliberations were inviolable.

The plaintiffs said they suffered from exposure to PCBs in fluorescent light ballasts produced decades ago by Monsanto's customers and installed in the late 1960s at Sky Valley Education Center in Monroe, about 35 miles northeast of Seattle.

The verdict is the latest in a series of lawsuits against Monsanto connected to claims of exposure from PCBs at Sky Valley. Washington juries have returned verdicts awarding more than $700 million in damages in a half-dozen Sky Valley lawsuits that have gone to trial. One case ended in mistrial, and two of the verdicts are under appeal.

During closing arguments Monday, an attorney for Monsanto, Hildy Sastre of Shook Hardy & Bacon LLP, told jurors that plaintiffs had not met their burden to prove that PCBs in the school's air caused the variety of ailments they say they are suffering.

"If the plaintiffs don't prove causation, this case is over," Sastre said.

Sastre also argued that the plaintiffs have failed to prove that they received a dose of PCBs sufficient to cause their ailments.

The plaintiffs' attorney Richard H. Friedman of Friedman Rubin PLLP, told the jury that Monsanto knew about the dangers for decades before PCB manufacturing was banned in the U.S. in late 1970s.

Friedman also said Monsanto has continued to downplay the effects of PCB exposure.

The plaintiffs are represented by Sean J. Gamble, Richard H. Friedman, Henry G. Jones and Ronald J. Park of Friedman Rubin PLLP and Darrell L. Cochran, Thomas B. Vertetis, Colleen Durkin Peterson, Andrew S. Ulmer, Michael T. Pfau and Alexander G. Dietz of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC.

Monsanto is represented by A. Elizabeth Sternhell-Blackwell, Kenneth Lee Marshall, Daniel P. Mach, Jennifer L. Campbell, Allison K. Krashan, CaroLea W. Casas of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP and Hildy Sastre, Torrey Peterson, Jon Strongman, Adam E. Miller, Katherine Landfried, Thomas M. Goutman, Rosemary Schnall, Brandon Arber, Madison M. Hatten, Terri Parker, Richard L. Campbell, Diana A. Chang, Andrea J. Steele, Michael E. Rayfield, Susan L. Werstak of Shook Hardy & Bacon LLP.

The case is Crystal R. Clinger et al. v. Pharmacia LLC, case number 18-2-54572-2, in King County Superior Court.

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