A California groundskeeper who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma following years of exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer will accept a judge’s decision to significantly reduce the verdict awarded in his case last August.
Dwayne Johnson, 46, was initially awarded $289 million, after a unanimous San Francisco Superior Court jury found that Roundup had caused his cancer. Last week, however, the trial judge slashed the jury’s $250 million punitive damage award by $210 million, bringing Johnson’s total damages to $78 million.
Johnson, whose cancer is considered terminal, could have refused to accept the judge’s ruling and requested a new trial on punitive damages. A spokesperson for his attorneys indicated that he hoped to achieve “a final resolution within his lifetime” by accepting the decision.
It remains to be seen if Bayer – which recently acquired Monsanto – will allow that. The company had previously vowed to appeal any adverse verdict involving Roundup and cancer.
The closely-watched case was the first Roundup cancer lawsuit to go to trial anywhere in the United States. According to his complaint, Johnson was exposed to Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killers marketed by Monsanto roughly 20-to-30 times per year during his career as a landscaper for a northern California school district.
At trial, his lawyers presented internal company documents to back-up allegations that Monsanto was aware of glyphosate’s purported dangers as early as 1983. Company emails entered into evidence also suggested that Monsanto had unduly influenced research that found glyphosate safe.
Johnson and his family were awarded $39 million in compensatory damages, as well as $250 million in punitive damage. The punitive award reflected the unanimous jury’s desire to punish Monsanto for acting “with malice or oppression” when it sold Roundup without a cancer warning.
Early last month, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos suggested that she might toss the punitive damage award entirely, and even hinted that she was open to reducing compensatory damages. However, her suggestion was met with protests from jurors, two of whom wrote letters to the court asking that their verdict remain intact.
Judge Bolanos issued her final decision last Monday, writing that she was compelled to uphold the unanimous finding that Roundup had caused Johnson’s cancer. Among other things, she noted that jurors had heard both sides’ expert witnesses debate the merits of Johnson’s claims.
However, Judge Bolanos also asserted that she was bound by the California constitution to reduce punitive damages to $39 million, thus bringing those damages in line with the jury’s compensatory award.
Monsanto’s Roundup is the world’s most popular herbicide.
In March 2017, however, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared glyphosate 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.
More than 8,500 plaintiffs in the United States have since filed Roundup lawsuits accusing Monsanto of concealing glyphosate’s potential carcinogenic effects.
According to Bloomberg News, one financial analyst has suggested that Bayer could face liability of roughly $680 million in connection with the Roundup litigation.