Former NFL running back Merril Hoge alleges in a federal lawsuit that Roundup caused him to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a complaint his lawyer told USA TODAY Sports could lead to a multimillion-dollar judgment against the weed killer’s manufacturer, Monsanto.
The 54-year-old Hoge — who played seven of his eight NFL seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers — appears to be the most notable name out of the thousands of lawsuits filed against Monsanto since the active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, was labeled as a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2015.
“Merril has a long history of working on farms and being around Roundup,” Joseph Osborne, one of Hoge’s lawyers, told USA TODAY Sports. “He either mixed it or sprayed, if not on a daily basis, at least a weekly basis. He never thought anything about it.”
Hoge was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2003 and was an NFL analyst at ESPN at the time. He underwent a series of chemotherapy treatments and has been in remission since.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Idaho on July 3, claims Hoge “has incurred significant economic and non-economic damages” due to exposure to Roundup while working on a farm in his native Idaho where he regularly mixed and sprayed the pesticide.
Osborne said Hoge didn’t link his diagnosis to Roundup until recently as more studies began to question the safety of the product.
The lawsuit also follows at least three multimillion judgments in the U.S. against Monsanto, which was acquired by German conglomerate Bayer in 2018. In May, a jury in Northern California ordered Monsanto to pay more than $2 billion to a couple who claimed Roundup caused their cancers.
Bayer says the number of plaintiffs who have filed lawsuits over Roundup in the U.S. swelled by 5,000 in the second quarter to about 18,400. Bayer, which detailed the total number of plaintiffs as of July 11 in its quarterly report released Tuesday, said that “we continue to believe that we have meritorious defenses” and will “defend ourselves vigorously.
Bayer argues that studies have established that glyphosate is safe.
The EPA issued a statement in April stating that it “continues to find that there are no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label.”
Hoge was first exposed to Roundup in about 1977, according to the lawsuit. That’s roughly 26 years before his diagnosis of cancer and, now, it’s more than 16 years after that diagnosis. The federal courts have a two-year statute of limitations for negligence lawsuits like Hoge’s, although lawyers argue that limit should be lifted over allegations Monsanto hid the dangers of Roundup from the public.
Osborne, Hoge’s attorney, said his client “deals with the possibility that his lymphoma will return and the effects of chemotherapy on a daily basis.”
“Like any cancer patient, when he was diagnosed he was focused on what he had to do for treatment and how to survive,” Osborne said. “He went through rigorous rounds of chemotherapy and, ultimately, it went into remission. He has to live the rest of his life in fear that it could return. He didn’t drink. He didn’t smoke. He took care of his body. He has no family history (of lymphoma).”
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