(October 23, 2018) – A Roundup verdict for a California man who was stricken with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after he used Monsanto poisons will stand. San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos yesterday denied Monsanto’s motion to toss a verdict won this past summer by former groundskeeper DeWayne “Lee” Johnson. Twelve jurors awarded Mr. Johnson $289 million in total damages in August 2018.
$78.5 Million Award for Monsanto Victim
Monsanto had filed a petition requesting that the judge throw out the entire jury verdict. The judge instead slashed about $211 million from the $289 million total. She ruled the jury’s $250 million punitive damages award needed to be reduced to $39.25 million, which was the amount the jury awarded in compensatory damages. That makes the total award $78.5 million for the Monsanto victim.
Judge Suzanne Bolanos acknowledged the jury’s finding that Monsanto’s herbicides were a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
In her 12-page order, Judge Bolanos reversed course from a tentative ruling she made in a hearing earlier this month. She had said that Mr. Johnson had not proven Monsanto had acted with malice. She said she would likely toss the entire punitive damages award. But the judge ruled instead that that Mr. Johnson had established an “inference” that Monsanto had acted maliciously. She further explained that the court had not found a case in which a “series of corporate actions and decisions” was found to be insufficient to support punitive damages.
Monsanto Malice Organization-wide
Judge Bolanos wrote in her ruling: “When the entire organization is involved in acts that constitute malice, there is no danger a blameless corporation will be punished for bad acts over which it had no control.”
Judge Bolanos ruled furthermore that it was also reasonable for the jury to conclude that Monsanto acted with malice by continuing to market and sell a dangerous product without a warning.
Nevertheless, Judge Bolanos also ruled the punitive damages must be reduced. She pointed to a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Company v. Campbell, which held that the Fourteenth Amendment limits punitive damages.
Judge Bolanos wrote that when a compensatory damages award is large and primarily for noneconomic damages, the appropriate ratio between compensatory and punitive damages is one-to-one.
She said that if Mr. Johnson did not accept the reduced $39.25 million punitive damages verdict, she would grant Monsanto’s motion for a new trial as to punitive damages only.
First Roundup Cancer Trial
Mr. Johnson’s case was the first to go to trial over Monsanto’s Roundup cancer link. The California groundskeeper was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014, after he had sprayed Monsanto’s Ranger Pro and Roundup poisons on Benicia, California school grounds.
Mr. Johnson charged that Monsanto knew of Roundup’s health risks since the 1990s, when studies began showing a link between Roundup and lymphoma. His lawsuit petition said he used Monsanto products because he thought they were safe, because Monsanto downplayed the known dangers and failed to post a warning label. Mr. Johnson said that soon after an equipment problem soaked him head-to-toe in Ranger Pro, his skin broke out in blistering lesions. Doctors testified in the trial that he is dying from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
$289 Million Jury Award
Three days after deliberating in August 2918, a jury awarded Mr. Johnson $39.25 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages. The award included $33 million in noneconomic damages, a million for every year of the 46-year-old’s life that he will have lost to cancer.
Monsanto claims Insufficient Evidence
After the verdict, Monsanto moved for either a new trial or a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Monsanto lawyers said Mr. Johnson had not given “sufficient and substantial evidence” to show Monsanto herbicides cause cancer.
Judge Bolanos flatly rejected those motions as to the punitive damages. She also ruled there was no basis to overturn the jury’s finding on liability and toss the verdict in its entirety.
Judge allows Jury System to Work
The judge wrote that it was proper for the jury to rely on testimony from Mr. Johnson’s key causation expert, oncologist Dr. Chadi Nabhan.
Dr. Nabhan used an admissible method to support his conclusion that Roundup caused Mr. Johnson’s cancer, wrote the judge. “Dr. Nabhan was cross-examined and the defense presented expert witnesses to criticize the basis of Dr. Nabhan’s opinion. (The) court does not resolve scientific controversies.’ … That is a matter for the jury to resolve.”
Bayer AG, which acquired Monsanto this summer, called Judge Bolanos’ ruling “a step in the right direction,” repeated its attorneys’ arguments about a lack of sufficient evidence presented at trial, and said it plans to appeal the judge’s ruling.
Roundup Verdict Survives Monsanto Appeal
The case is Johnson v. Monsanto Co. et al., case number CGC16550128, in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of San Francisco.
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