Oct. 23, 2018
Bayer AG failed to persuade a California state judge to set aside a jury’s verdict in the first trial over allegations that its Roundup weed killer causes cancer, but the judge said damages should be reduced to $78.6 million from $289 million.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos rejected Bayer’s arguments that the jury didn’t have any basis to conclude that the herbicide caused an ex-school groundskeeper’s cancer.
The decision isn’t a legal precedent for thousands of related lawsuits across the U.S., but it will encourage plaintiffs to press forward with their claims.
Jurors awarded $39 million to compensate plaintiff Dewayne Lee Johnson for his lost earnings and enjoyment of life. They also concluded that Monsanto Co., which Bayer acquired this year, should pay $250 million as punishment for hiding the dangers of the herbicide.
In Monday’s ruling, Bolanos concluded: "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.
The judge set a Dec. 7 deadline for the plaintiff to accept that amount. If Johnson doesn’t accept it, Bayer is entitled to a new trial on punitive damages, she said.
A Bayer representative had no immediate comment. Michael Baum and Michael Miller, lawyers for Johnson, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Bayer sought to convince Bolanos that the jury wasn’t presented with sufficient scientific evidence to hold Monsanto at fault for Johnson’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He blamed his illness on exposure to the key ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate
, which was first approved for use in 1974 and grew to become the world’s most widely used herbicide.
Bayer investors panicked at the jury’s initial verdict, triggering a selloff in which shares plunged the most in seven years on Aug. 13. With more than 8,500 claims over the herbicide pending in the U.S., the company is preparing for the next test trials in St. Louis state court and San Francisco federal court in February.