News 4 Investigates: Consumer lawsuits may not always be the windfall you’d think

Published: May. 22, 2023 at 10:30 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - You’ve seen the headlines: big money settlements or judgments in lawsuits against major corporations. A local man reached out to News 4 Investigates because his grief from losing his wife has been made more difficult by a wait for judgment day.

Wayne Davis recalled that his wife, Joyce Davis was full of life.

“She loved traveling,” he said. He told News 4 Investigates she was laughing up until the day she passed away.

“She’s not lying next to me anymore, you know. I look over while I’m driving. She’s not there,” he said, fighting back tears.

On June 1, 2019, Joyce died from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer.

“She had a lump on her throat,” Wayne said.

Wayne said they started seeing ads mentioning her exact diagnosis: some lawsuits claim the cancer was connected to a certain type of weed killer, Roundup.

In 2018, a jury awarded a man nearly $400 million, punishing St. Louis-based Monsanto, now Bayer. In the years since, tens of thousands more people have sued. The cases are continuing still.

With her medical bills mounting, even before she passed, they contacted a lawyer because he said Joyce had used Roundup around the house.

“I told her, ‘What do we have to lose?’ I thought if this was the cause of it, then make them pay for something,” he said.

But close to four years after her death, Wayne said, so far, there’s no closure on their case. While he waits, he wonders.

Generally, most lawsuits result in much smaller judgments or settlements. Even then, lawyers will recover their costs, and so too could insurance companies or even government Medicare.

“They don’t realize what’s actually involved in these settlements,” Wayne said.

In the meantime, he said, he keeps seeing ads claiming there is money on the table.

“I think that the advertising is somewhat out of control. I’ll just go ahead and say it,” said Eric Holland, a local attorney not affiliated with Wayne’s case or able to speak on Roundup.

But he’s best known for winning a multi-hundred million dollar suit against Johnson and Johnson and links of talc to ovarian cancer.

“I have a high degree of trust in the courts here, and so do a lot of other folks. I think that’s why you see cases being brought here as often as possible and is legally proper,” said Holland.

He told News 4 Investigates lawsuits are the best way for people who are harmed to seek justice.

“Where else can the everyday person can go up toe-to-toe against a $1 billion company?” he said.

But he said it’s important for people to have all the information before they take on a big corporation.

“Oftentimes, those cases where there are those large judgments, it’s really monopoly money,” Holland said.

Other entities, he said, too, will be entitled to a cut.

“The lien issues involved in these cases I refer to as the dark arts. It is a very murky area, a lot of people have their hand out, whether it be private liens, government, government aid, all sorts of folks,” Holland said.

Lawyers’ fees, often between 33% and 40% in these types of cases are something they’re ethically bound to explain. He told News 4 Investigates each individual case is different and a corporation’s strategy on how they payout may change too.

Wayne said no amount of money will bring Joyce back. But an open court case is making it tougher to move on.

“I want it over with because this was stopped on my final closure,” Wayne said.

Bayer, which owns Monsanto now, has actually won several Roundup lawsuits at trial, meaning some plaintiffs have gotten nothing.

Various experts dispute connections between the chemicals in the weed killer and cancer.

On their website, Bayer writes: “...the company is fully confident in its legal strategy and prepared to defend cases at trial when appropriate.”

When News 4 asked Bayer for comment, they said a statement that read:

“The company has settled cases with plaintiffs’ law firms when it is in our business interest to do so. The terms of those settlements are confidential.

“We remain confident in the scientific and regulatory support for the safety of our products and the company has won the last six Roundup trials in a row.”

Lawyers are ethically and legally bound by some parameters on advertising and how they communicate with you. Be sure to ask a lot of questions before you take on a case or choose a lawyer.