San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos has denied Monsanto’s motion to toss a $289 million verdict in a landmark case brought by school groundskeeper DeWayne “Lee” Johnson, who alleged the company’s Roundup and Ranger Pro weed killers caused his non-Hodgkin lymphoma. But she did slash his punitive award by $211 million to protect the company’s due process rights.
Judge Bolanos ruled that the jury’s $250 million punitive damages award must be reduced to $39.25 million, which is the same amount the jury awarded in compensatory damages, bringing the total award to $78.5 million.
In a tentative ruling issued at a hearing earlier this month, Judge Bolanos said that she would likely toss the entire punitive award because she said Johnson didn’t prove that Monsanto had acted with malice. But in her final ruling this week, she said Johnson had established an “inference” that the agrichemical company had acted maliciously.
“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 wrote in her 12-page order. She also said that when compensatory damages are that high and involve mostly noneconomic damages, the ratio between compensatory and punitive damages should be equal.
If Johnson does not accept the reduced punitive damages, Judge Bolanos said she would grant Monsanto’s motion for a new trial for punitive damages only.
Roundup and glyphosate
Monsanto introduced Roundup in 1974. It is now the most widely used herbicide in the world among farmers, groundskeepers, landscapers, horticulturalists and even home gardeners who regularly douse the product on everything from grains and vegetables, to fruit and nuts. Roundup, and Monsanto’s generic alternative Ranger Pro, contain the active ingredient glyphosate. This chemical can now be found in other herbicides, but Monsanto holds the largest share of glyphosate sales. Monsanto was recently acquired by Bayer AG, which called the ruling “a step in the right direction.”
However, Monsanto still faces more than 560 Roundup lawsuits in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, and an additional 8,000-plus similar cases in state courts across the country. The next Roundup trial is slated for Feb. 5, 2019; however, expedited trials have been requested in at least two other cases, including one involving an elderly couple who were both diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma they claim was caused by using Roundup.