When the Europeans discovered US rice imports contained genetically modified strains, it slammed its doors closed to American rice farmers and delivered a devastating blow to the livelihoods of some 2,500 farmers in the southern US.
Bayer's conduct says attorney Scott Powell, a partner with Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton in Birmingham, amounted to a clear case of negligence and wrongful conduct.
"Bayer came into this country to do some experiments with genetically altered material," says Powell, "and they have a duty to comply with the rules and regulations of the US Department of Agriculture, which requires those experiment strains confined within a field trial."
"Bayer did not do that," adds Powell. "Its gmo rice was allowed to escape and when it did, it got into the commercial rice supply and the markets crashed."
And US industry is not insignificant. The US, particularly the Mississippi Delta area, produces 12 percent of the world's rice supply and has a value of close to $2 billion annually.
The Bayer Cropscience offer to settle comes after a series of six so-called "bellwether trials" in the federal and state courts aimed at providing the parties with some indication of how juries would perceive the situation.
All six trials returned for the plaintiffs and the Roanoke trial resulted in a $45 million verdict awarded to a group of rice farmers also represented by Powell.
Rice farmers represented in the litigation are by and large families who have been involved in the rice-growing business for generations, operating farms that have been passed down through the generations.
"The clients I have spoken to are pleased with the results," says Powell. The problem is, however, that the contamination represents almost a type of permanent injury.
"The markets are still closed and the markets are still depressed. Trace amounts of gmo material continue to be found in Italy and Vietnam, for example," says Powell. "There continues to be testing of US rice, which there didn't use to be, and this continues to be a problem for these farmers."
Scott Powell is a partner in the firm of Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton. His practice includes litigation under the False Claims Act for qui tam plaintiffs, complex class-action litigation, commercial litigation, personal injury and wrongful death claims.