Recently, litigation against a manufacturer of genetically-modified corn has been drawing nationwide attention. Over 20 states are already involved in lawsuits, and industry estimates place plaintiff damages at $2.9 billion. Tim Landis, “Lawsuits pile up nationwide in case of genetically modified corn,” The State Journal-Register, Sep. 21, 2015. This article explores the litigation and emphasizes the need for agricultural expert witnesses and economic experts on both sides of the litigation.
The litigation at issue pertains to genetically-modified corn that was sold to American farmers in 2013 and 2014. See id. That corn, which farmers attempted to sell to China, was rejected by Chinese importers, which plaintiffs allege caused the price of corn to plummet, “costing farmers billions in lost income.” Id. The issue of assessing damages alone will mean that experts, particularly those in the agricultural and engineering fields, will be of critical importance. With respect to the damages, the defense has argued that corn prices were already falling prior to China’s rejection of the genetically-modified product. Id. In any event, agricultural and economic expert witnesses will be needed by both sides to help determine what, if any, amount of actual damages the plaintiffs incurred. One analyst has claimed that the plaintiffs would “only have to prove they suffered losses as a result of the Chinese rejection of the U.S. corn, whether or not they planted the [genetically-modified] varieties in 2013 and 2014.” Id. While these matters are yet to be adjudicated, it is clear that experts will hold the key to the ultimate determinations in a court of law or during settlement negotiations.
Liability and Causation:
Moreover, experts are sorely needed to determine liability and to assess the accuracy of the alleged causation. For example, according to the plaintiffs, the genetically-modified corn “got mingled with regular corn,” some of which was destroyed by China, and some of which was sold to various Third World nations. Id. Experts will be crucial in determining what, if any, level of culpability should be assigned to the defendant, particularly since the plaintiffs have argued that the defendant sold the corn to farmers, knowing that the corn would be rejected by Chinese importers. Id.
However, the defendants have argued that they do not bear responsibility for the result and ensuing damages incurred by the plaintiffs. The defense argues that “This litigation constitutes an unprecedented effort to hold a company liable for selling a U.S.-approved product in the U.S., simply because the product was not yet approved by a foreign country such as China.” Id. Whether or not such claims are the case is a matter to be determined by a court, and expert testimony will play an indispensable role in making those determinations.
In the weeks and months to come, more and more legal analysts and experts will weigh in on the controversy that has so far encompassed over 130,000 acres of farmland. See id. During that time, practitioners in the field will undoubtedly need to rely upon agricultural, engineering, genetic, and economic expert witnesses. Such experts should be consulted early and often and, as their opinions are given, attorneys will need to select the most reputable and credible witnesses to best handle this major and complex litigation.
By: Kat S. Hatziavramidis, Attorney-at-Law