(Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Wednesday appointed prominent attorney Kenneth Feinberg as mediator for court-mandated settlement talks in the federal litigation over allegations that Bayer AG’s glyphosate-based Roundup weed killer caused cancer.
Feinberg has been instructed to meet with lawyers for Bayer and plaintiffs within the next 14 days, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco said during a court hearing on Wednesday.
Chhabria, who oversees some 900 federal Roundup lawsuits, on April 11 ordered the parties to start confidential mediation. He appointed Feinberg after the parties failed to agree on a mediator.
Feinberg is well known for having facilitated dispute resolutions in high-stakes litigations in the past. He led mediation talks over the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, Volkswagen’s diesel emissions scandal and General Motors ignition switch litigation.
Chhabria on Wednesday also scheduled the next federal Roundup trial for February 2020. The case would mark the second bellwether, or test trial, to help determine the range of damages and define settlement options for federal cases.
The judge also wants to prepare some 20 cases currently pending before him for trial and send them to other courts across the country.
More than 13,400 plaintiffs nationwide allege Roundup caused non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and that the company failed to warn about that risk. The majority of lawsuits are pending in state courts across the country.
Bayer, which acquired Roundup maker Monsanto in a $63 billion deal last year, denies the allegations, saying studies and regulators have deemed glyphosate and Roundup safe for human use.
The company in the past said it would comply with Chhabria’s mediation order in good faith, while believing strongly in the “extensive body of reliable science supporting the safety of Roundup.”
Bayer has also said it would defend itself in all cases and await the appeals process underway for the three cases that have gone to trial and resulted in jury verdicts against it.
A California jury on May 13 awarded $2 billion to a couple alleging Roundup caused their cancer.
In March, a federal jury in San Francisco awarded $80 million to a California man after finding Roundup caused his cancer.
That decision came after another California jury in August 2018 awarded $289 million to a groundskeeper in the first U.S. Roundup trial. That award was later reduced to $78 million.
Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot