(July 16, 2019) Calling Monsanto “reprehensible” for concealing the cancerous hazards of Roundup, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria refused to toss out a jury verdict against the chemical giant this week.
Judge Chhabria oversaw the Roundup trial in which a jury, in March 2019, ordered Monsanto to pay Ed Hardeman $80 million.
Monsanto more concerned with silencing safety concerns than ensuring Roundup Safe
The judge said a punitive award is appropriate because trial evidence “easily supported a conclusion that Monsanto was more concerned with tamping down safety inquiries and manipulating public opinion than it was with ensuring its product is safe.”
Mr. Hardeman alleged in his 2016 lawsuit petition that he developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after spraying Roundup for 26 years around his 56-acre property. His northern California land included hiking trails dotted with poison oak, which Mr. Hardeman said he dosed heavily with Roundup. Then he woke one morning with a golf-ball sized lump on his neck, and was soon diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, around Christmas 2014. Monsanto’s lawyers say he has been in remission for four years after taking chemo “therapy.”
In reviewing the case at Monsanto’s request, the judge did agree this week to reduce the $80 million verdict to $25 million. He said he found the punitive damages award “unreasonably high.” At the same time, Judge Chhabria said he agreed with the plaintiff’s side that the roughly $5 million in compensatory damages awarded to Ed Hardeman was sufficiently supported by the trial evidence. However, the judge called the jury’s $75 million punitive damages award against the Bayer AG unit “constitutionally impermissible.”
Judge: Monsanto’s Conduct Reprehensible
“The jury’s punitive damages award was approximately 15 times the size of the compensatory damages award,” said the judge. “Monsanto’s conduct, while reprehensible, does not warrant a ratio of that magnitude, particularly in the absence of evidence showing intentional concealment of a known or obvious safety risk.”
Judge Chhabria found that the $75 million in punitive damages exceeded the constitutional limit set by the due process clause which prohibits “grossly excessive” punitive damages. He reduced the punitive damages award to $20 million, which changed the total amount to around $25.3 million.
The California jury unanimously found Monsanto liable for failing to warn that glyphosate, Roundup’s only listed active ingredient, could cause cancer. The jury awarded Mr. Hardeman more than $80 million, shocking the chemical giant in the first federal bellwether trial.
Jury Unanimous over Failure to Warn, Negligence, Design Defect
After deliberating for a day, five women and one man found Monsanto liable on a failure-to-warn claim, a negligence claim, and a design defect claim. The six awarded Mr. Hardeman $200,967 in economic damages, roughly $5 million in future and past noneconomic damages, $75 million in punitive damages.
Bayer spokesperson Christopher Loder called Judge Chhabria’s decision to slash the punitive damages award a “step in the right direction.” Mr. Loder also repeated again Monsanto’s oft-repeated claim that the damage awards are not supported by “reliable evidence and conflict with both the weight of the extensive science that supports the safety of Roundup, and the conclusions of leading health regulators in the U.S. and around the world that glyphosate is not carcinogenic.” He also said that Bayer plans to file an appeal with the Ninth Circuit.
Judge rejects Monsanto Bid to Toss Jury Verdict
On July 12, Judge Chhabria denied Monsanto’s bid for a new trial. He said there was no reason to overturn the jury’s verdict on Mr. Hardeman’s design defect claim because sufficient evidence supported a finding that Roundup is defective under California law when sold without a warning.
The judge also rejected Monsanto’s argument that the jury saw an “inaccurate view” of the scientific and regulatory landscape around Roundup.
Judge: Monsanto limited Evidence, made its own bed
“This argument is fundamentally about the scope of the trial,” the judge said. “While Monsanto is correct that the jury wasn’t presented with the entire regulatory landscape, that is primarily a function of the evidentiary parameters Monsanto itself requested, and was largely granted, in response to motions in limine.”
Monsanto is also fighting two other huge trial losses over Roundup. Prior to Mr. Hardeman’s March 2019 verdict, an August 2018 trial resulted in a $289 million judgment against Monsanto for school groundskeeper DeWayne Johnson, a verdict later slashed to $78 million. In the third Roundup trial, in May 2019, a jury awarded a husband and wife a $2.055 billion verdict. Alva and Alberta Pilliods’ case is one of approximately 13,400 pending. Most are consolidated in multidistrict litigation (MDL Court) before Judge Chhabria.
Judge calls Monsanto “reprehensible,” refuses to toss Jury Verdict
The case is Hardeman v. Monsanto Co. et al., case number 3:16-cv-00525, and the MDL is In re: Roundup Products Liability Litigation, case number 3:16-md-02741, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
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