A jury’s unanimous finding that Monsanto’s popular Roundup weed killer caused a former groundskeeper to develop terminal cancer has been upheld, after a California judge refused a defense motion for a new trial.
But in her 11-page decision issued on Monday, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos also slashed the jury’s $250 million punitive damage award by more than $210 million, bringing it in line with the $39 million in compensatory damages granted to Dwayne Johnson and his family last August.
Judge Bolanos gave the Plaintiff until December 7th to accept the reduced judgment or seek a new trial on punitive damages. A spokesperson for Johnson and his attorneys indicated that they have yet to make a final decision.
“Although we believe a reduction in punitive damages was unwarranted and we are weighing the options, we are pleased the court did not disturb the verdict,” she told the Associated Press.
Monsanto’s Roundup is the world’s most widely-used herbicide.
However, in March 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared glyphosate – the active ingredient in Roundup – a probable human carcinogen. The IARC decision reflected the findings of an independent review that linked glyphosate exposure to an increased risk of cancer, especially non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and its various subtypes.
Johnson’s Monsanto Roundup lawsuit was the first such case to go to trial in the United States. According to his complaint, the 46-year-old father of two young sons was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014, following repeated exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides during his tenure as a groundkeeper for a California school district. Johnson is now considered terminal.
Following 6 weeks of testimony, the jury empaneled to hear his case awarded Johnson and his family $289 million in compensatory and punitive damages, after finding that Monsanto willfully ignored evidence of glyphosate’s association with cancer.
Earlier this month, Judge Bolanos suggested that she might toss Johnson’s entire punitive damage award, and even hinted that she was open to reducing compensatory damages. That prompted protests from jurors, two of whom wrote letters to the court asking that their verdict remain intact.
In reversing course on Monday, Judge Bolanos stated that she was compelled to uphold the jury’s unanimous finding that Roundup had caused Johnson’s cancer, noting that jurors had heard both sides’ expert witnesses debate the merits of his claims.
In opting to reduce Johnson’s punitive award, Judge Bolanos asserted that California’s constitution required a one-to-one ratio with compensatory damages, “regardless of the level of reprehensibility of Monsanto’s conduct”.
More than 8,700 plaintiffs have filed similar Roundup lawsuits in courts throughout the United States. Judge Bolanos’s decision to uphold the jury’s findings on glyphosate and cancer will likely encourage many others to move forward with similar cases.
According to Bloomberg News, one financial analyst has suggested that Bayer – which recently completed its acquisition of Monsanto – could face liability of roughly $680 million in connection with the Roundup litigation.