By Kathleen Bianco, J.D.
A federal jury in Kansas returned a $217 million verdict against a manufacturer of genetically modified (GMO) corn in a negligence suit arising from the manufacturer’s premature commercialization of its product. In reaching this conclusion, the jury found that the plaintiffs had met the requirements for negligence outlined in the jury instructions and that the manufacturer had failed to adequately support its defense of superseding cause. However, the jury declined to award punitive damages, finding that the plaintiffs had not presented clear and convincing evidence that the manufacturer had acted in a wanton manner towards the plaintiffs (In Re: Syngenta AG MIR 162 Corn Litigation (The Kansas Class Trial), June 23, 2017).
The mass tort action, which was filed on behalf of corn farmers and other related entities, alleged that Syngenta, the manufacturer of the genetically modified corn trait "MIR162" sold to U.S. farmers under the trade name Agrisure Viptera®, prematurely commercialized MIR162. In doing so, the lawsuit contended, the manufacturer acted negligently, recklessly, and deceptively, causing harm to the corn industry and contaminating the entire United States corn supply. The suit further asserted that at the time of the alleged acts, the manufacturer knew that the early release of the GMO corn trait was a risk to corn growers, sellers, and exporters due to the lack of foreign regulatory approval, thereby breaching the duty owed in preventing the harm alleged.
The complaint set forth a number of claims against the manufacturer, including: negligence, products liability, tortious interference with business actions, and strict liability as to certain classes of plaintiffs. Specific allegations and claims for damages included the premature release of Viptera and Agrisure Duracade™ into the U.S. corn and corn seed supply; the materially misleading statements made relating to approval status of MIR162 in China upon which plaintiffs relied; the failure to disclose the material fact that MIR162 was not approved for import into China; and the continuing and future MIR162 contamination of the U.S. corn and seed supply. The plaintiffs sought monetary damages, both compensatory and punitive, along with attorney fees, pre- and post-judgment interest, court costs, and any other relief deemed appropriate the by court.
Jury findings. Following a trial, the jury determined that the plaintiffs had proven, by a preponderance of the evidence, the requirements of negligence, as set forth in the jury instructions, and awarded damages in the amount of $217,700,000. However, the jury did not find that the plaintiffs had proven wanton conduct on the part of the manufacturer and, thus, denied their request for punitive damages.
The case is No. 14-md-2591-JWL (MDL No. 2591).
Attorneys: Clark W. Mason (Clark Mason Attorneys), Jerry Kelly (Kelly Law Firm) and John Paul Byrd (Paul Byrd Law Firm, PLLC) for Stracener Farming Co. Bridget K. O'Connor (Kirkland & Ellis LLP), David M. Stein (Greenberg Gross LLP) and James R. Olson (Law Offices of Olson, Cannon, Gormley, Angulo & Stoberski) for Syngenta AG, Syngenta Crop Protection AG and Syngenta Corp.
Companies: Stracener Farming Co.; Syngenta AG; Syngenta Crop Protection AG; Syngenta Corp.
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