A California appeals court appears ready to uphold the nation’s first Monsanto Roundup verdict, but will likely reduce the $78.5 million judgment awarded to the plaintiff.
Dwayne Johnson, a former California school district groundskeeper, alleged long-term exposure to glyphosate in Monsanto Roundup caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In August 2018, a San Francisco Superior Court jury found in his favor and awarded Johnson more than $289 million in damages.
Although the trial judge ultimately reduced the judgment to $78.5 million to comply with California’s limits on punitive damages, Bayer AG has asked the United States Court of Appeal First Appellate District to either toss the verdict entirely or remand the case for retrial. The appeals court will hear oral arguments June 2nd, and has indicated that the parties should be prepared to discuss damages.
“Assume that this Court agrees with Monsanto Company that the award of future noneconomic damages should be reduced,” a May 13th docket entry states. “If the Court directs such a reduction, should it also reduce the award of punitive damages to maintain the trial court’s 1:1 ratio of compensatory damages to punitive damages?”
The focus on damages suggests the appeals court has not found fault with the jury’s finding that glyphosate caused Johnson’s cancer, and is therefore not prepared to dismiss the Monsanto Roundup verdict entirely or order a new trial.
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto Roundup, is the most popular herbicide in the world. But in March 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer declared glyphosate a probable human carcinogen, after an independent review suggested occupational exposure increased the risk of cancer, especially non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and its various subtypes.
Bayer, which acquired Monsanto in June 2018, is now defending more than 52,000 Roundup cancer lawsuits in courts throughout the United States. The company has lost all three cases that have gone to trial so far, with plaintiffs’ combined damages totaling $191 billion.
Although Bayer continues to deny that glyphosate causes cancer, the company has been participating in court ordered litigation aimed at resolving the massive litigation. Recent reports had indicated the parties were nearing a settlement in the neighborhood of $10 billion, but talks to finalize the agreement have been delayed by the global coronavirus pandemic.