Having successfully, closed on its $66 billion purchase of the agrochemical company Monsanto in June, we suspect Germany's Bayer AG, is more than a little concerned now after failing to persuade a judge to set aside a jury’s $289 million verdict in the first trial over allegations that its Roundup weed killer causes cancer.
As a reminder, in August, a San Francisco Jury awarded $289 million in damages to a former school groundskeeper, Dewayne Johnson, who said Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller gave him terminal cancer. The award consists of $40 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages.
Johnson's trial was fast-tracked due to the severe state of his non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph system he says was triggered by Roundup and Ranger Pro, a similar glyphosate herbicide that he applied up to 30 times per year. His doctors didn't think he'd live to live to see the verdict.
Johnson testified that he had been involved in two accidents during his work in which he was doused with the product, the first of which happened in 2012. Two years later, the 46-year-old father of two was diagnosed with lymphoma - which has covered as much as 80% of his body in lesions.
Monsanto says it will appeal the verdict.
“Today’s decision does not change the fact that more than 800 scientific studies and reviews -- and conclusions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and regulatory authorities around the world -- support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer, and did not cause Mr. Johnson’s cancer,” Monsanto Vice President Scott Partridge said in a statement.
Appeal they did and today the verdict came down.
San Francisco superior court judge Suzanne Bolanos had suggested in an initial written ruling this month that she was considering granting a new trial, but her final ruling today largely sided with Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, denying Monsanto's request to overturn the verdict.
As Bloomberg reports, a California state judge rejected Bayer’s arguments that the jury didn’t have any basis to conclude that the herbicide caused an ex-school groundskeeper’s cancer.
However, she has ruled to reduce punitive damages from $250m to $39m, noting in her ruling Monday that if Johnson did not accept the lower punitive damages, she would order a new trial for Monsanto.
"The punitive damages award must be constitutionally reduced to the maximum allowed by due process in this case -- $39,253,209.35 -- equal to the amount of compensatory damages awarded by the jury based on its findings of harm to the plaintiff."
In a recent interview, Johnson told the Guardian that he wanted to see his case have a long-term impact, including new restrictions and labeling for the herbicide.
"I hope [Monsanto] gets the message that people in America and across the world are not ignorant. They have already done their own research,” he said, adding:
“I’m hoping that it snowballs and people really get the picture and they start to make decisions about what they eat, what they spray in their farms.”
This ruling opens Bayer to considerably higher damages as thousands of plaintiffs across the country have made similar legal claims, alleging that glyphosate exposure caused their cancer or resulted in the deaths of their loved ones.