A California state court judge has struck more than $200 million in punitive damages from a verdict linking Monsanto Co.’s herbicide Roundup to cancer.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos oversaw a jury trial earlier this year where a former school groundskeeper won a $289 million verdict from Monsanto after being diagnosed with cancer following exposure to one of the company’s herbicide.
But in a ruling Monday, Bolanos held that the $250 million punitive damages award handed down by the jury was unconstitutionally high. Bolanos’ ruling, however, stopped short of Monsanto’s request to toss out and cap punitives at $39.25 million, equal to the amount of compensatory damages.
The company told the Wall Street Journal in a statement Monday that the damages reduction was “a step in the right direction,” but that it continued “to believe that the liability verdict and damage awards are not supported by the evidence at trial or the law.”
However, attorneys for the plaintiff, Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, a former school groundskeeper diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2014 after using Monsanto’s herbicide Ranger Pro, told the Journal that the reduction in damages was improper and that they were considering their options for pursuing a new trial. But they said they were “happy the jury’s voice was acknowledged by the court, even if slightly muted.”
Bolanos had indicated in a tentative ruling on Monsanto’s motion for a new trial and for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict that she thought the evidence was insufficient to warrant $250 million in punitive damages since the plaintiffs had failed to show “malice or oppression” by Monsanto.
But in Monday’s order, Bolanos found to the contrary. “The jury could find that the decision by Monsanto to continue marketing [glyphosphate-based herbivores] notwithstanding a possible link with [non-Hodgkin lymphoma] constitutes corporate malice for purposes of punitive damages.”
Read the order: