ST. LOUIS--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz announces Bayer A.G. and its global affiliates have agreed to pay U.S. rice farmers $750 million in damages to settle all legal actions over the contamination of the nation's rice crop in 2006 by Bayer's experimental and unapproved genetically modified Liberty Link rice. Bayer’s contamination of the U.S. rice supply caused rice farmers serious financial harm and put the U.S. rice export market in jeopardy.
This is a groundbreaking settlement which will put an end to more than four years of hotly-contested litigation. The first lawsuit on behalf of the rice farmers was filed in September 2006, to recoup devastating losses farmers suffered after it was disclosed, in August 2006, that Bayer’s Liberty Link rice, which was not approved for human consumption, was found in the U.S. long grain rice supply.
Eventually all the farmers’ federal lawsuits were combined in a federal multi-district litigation involving more than 11,000 rice farmers, exporters, importers, mills, and dealers from five southern states: Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas. The farmers have won six jury trial verdicts against Bayer and have been awarded millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages.
Attorneys Adam Levitt of Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz in Chicago and Don Downing of Gray, Ritter & Graham in St. Louis – the court-appointed plaintiffs’ Co-Lead Counsel – negotiated the settlement which covers all U.S. long grain rice producers who planted rice between 2006 and 2010. Levitt says, “From the outset of this litigation, we made it clear to Bayer that the company needed to step up and take responsibility for damaging American rice farmers with its unapproved rice seeds. This excellent settlement goes a long way toward achieving that goal.”
The settlement calls for payments to farmers from one or more of three different funds, or “pots,” depending on the amount of their losses. “We are happy that Bayer has agreed to provide substantial compensation to the thousands of U.S. families that make their livelihood from rice farming,” Downing said. “In the farming community, most people live by the principle that if you harm a neighbor, you make it right. After almost five years of litigation, Bayer has finally made an effort make it right.”
Pot 1 of the settlement will pay each farmer up to a total of $310 per acre for each acre of long-grain rice planted between 2006 and 2010. The distribution runs from $120 for each acre planted in 2006 to $10 for each acre planted in 2010. Pot 2 of the settlement will pay rice farmers who planted either of the two contaminated varieties of rice, Cheniere or Clearfield 131, in 2006. For each acre planted, farmers will receive an additional $100 per acre, subject to a total cap of $70 million for all such claims. Pot 3 of the settlement will cover financial damage suffered beyond market loss by farmers who are willing to show extensive documentation and go into binding arbitration if Bayer disputes their claims. Farmers cannot seek compensation from both Pots 2 and 3. Pot 3 is subject to a total cap of $100 million for all such claims. The $750 million agreed to by Bayer is a settlement cap. If filed claims exceed that number, the compensation in Pot 1 will be reduced to no lower than $300 per acre. If necessary, Pot 3 compensation will be reduced to meet the cap.
In order for the settlement to take effect, farmers who planted at least 85% of the average number of planted acres of rice in the U.S. from 2006 to 2009, must agree to participate in the settlement and must file claim forms within 90 days of the settlement. If the 85% threshold is not met, Bayer can walk away from the settlement.
In addition to Co-Lead Counsel Levitt and Downing, other attorneys who were involved in the settlement negotiations for the plaintiffs include: Richard Arsenault of the Neblett, Beard & Arsenault law firm, William Chaney of the Looper, Reed & McGraw law firm, Scott Powell of the Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton law firm, and Grant Davis of the Davis, Bethune & Jones law firm.