Arkansas Supreme Court Affirms Multi-Million Dollar Judgment in GMO Rice Cas

December 11, 2011 | Roger McEowen

 

The Arkansas Supreme Court has affirmed a jury verdict of $5.9 million in actual damages and $42 million in punitive damages against Bayer CropScience for damages relating to Bayer’s introduction of GMO-rice in 2006. Bayer field tested their newly-developed GMO rice in 2006 before USDA gave regulatory approval and trace amounts showed up in the conventional long-grain rice supply.  That caused a stir in foreign import markets with Russia and Japan banning imports of long-grain rice, and Mexico and other countries either requiring GMO-free certification or testing.  The plaintiffs, Arkansas rice farmers, claimed damages from the drop in the market price for their rice crops.  They claimed that Bayer negligently handled the GMO-rice and didn’t announce the problem as soon as they found out about it. 

In reaching its decision, the court affirmed a lower court’s determination that an Arkansas law limiting the amount of damages was unconstitutional, and that the farmers’ expert witness on the damage issue was qualified to testify.

No human health problems have ever been discovered to be associated with the commingling of the GMO rice with the conventional rice supply.

See our annotation on the case:

Bayer Cropscience LP, et al. v. Schafer, et al., 2011 Ark. 518 (2011)(case involves defendants (rice farmers) alleged damages as a result of plaintiff’s contamination of non-GMO rice with plaintiff’s GMO rice - LibertyLink Rice (LLRice); plaintiff conducted outdoor field tests of LLRice before receiving regulatory approval and, at the time of the tests, no foreign government had authorized commercial use of GMO rice for human consumption; trace amounts of LLRice found in popular varieties of long-grain rice seed and regulatory approval granted three months later; defendants are rice farmers who sued to recover economic damages; vast majority of U.S. long-grain rice exported and major import countries either banned import of U.S. rice or required non-GMO certification or testing; defendants’ complaint alleged negligence and included claim for punitive damages; trial court, at pre-trial hearing, allowed testimony of defendant’s expert, ruled that defendant’s losses not barred by economic loss doctrine and held that state cap on damage award (Ark. Code Ann. Sec. 16-55-206) violated Arkansas Constitution (Art. 5, Sec. 32) and is unconstitutional; at jury trial, court determined on motion that plaintiff did not act intentionally, but again denied plaintiff’s motion that damages barred under economic loss doctrine; jury verdict for defendants and judgment entered, including $42,000,000 in punitive damages against plaintiff; plaintiff moved for new trial; on appeal, court held that state cap on damage awards unconstitutional, economic loss doctrine does not bar claim because damage to other property (lands, crops and equipment) involved, expert testimony properly allowed and question of excessiveness of jury’s award not properly before court).