Judge Upholds Monsanto Roundup-Cancer Verdict but Cuts Award to $78.5 Million
A California judge on October 22 upheld a San Francisco jury’s verdict finding that Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide caused a former school groundskeeper’s cancer, but slashed the amount of money to be paid from $289 million to just over $78 million. 
In August, a jury awarded Dewayne Johnson $250 million in punitive damages to punish Monsanto (now Bayer), and $39 million in compensatory damages to cover Johnson’s lost income, as well as pain and suffering.
On October 10, Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos issued a tentative ruling granting Monsanto’s request for a judgment notwithstanding verdict, or a JNOV. It appeared at the time that the tide had turned in favor of the agritech giant, as a JNOV is the equivalent of a judge in a civil case overruling a jury’s decision.
Bolanos said in her tentative ruling that Johnson “presented no clear and convincing evidence of malice or oppression to support an award of punitive damages.” Johnson risked losing the entire $250 million punitive award against Monsanto.
Some jurors were so disturbed by Bolanos’ tentative ruling that they wrote the judge letters, pleading with her to uphold the verdict.
Attorneys on both sides were given the opportunity to respond and argue their cases, and on October 22, Bolanos reversed her tentative ruling and denied Monsanto’s request for a JNOV.
However, the Judge reduced the amount of money that Johnson will receive from $289 million to about $78 million.
Bolanos’ reason for this, she said, was that she felt the punitive award was too high and needed to closely mirror Johnson’s $39 million compensatory award.
She wrote in her ruling:
“In enforcing due process limits, the court does not sit as a replacement for the jury but only as a check on arbitrary awards.
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.”
Monsanto also sought a new trial on the punitive damages – a request Bolanos said she would reject if Johnson agreed to the smaller punitive award. If he turns his nose up at the deal, a new trial will take place.
Johnson has until December 7 to decide which direction he wants to go. His spokeswoman, Diana McKinley, said he and his attorneys are weighing their options and hadn’t made a final decision. 
“Although we believe a reduction in punitive damages was unwarranted and we are weighing the options, we are pleased the court did not disturb the verdict.”
Johnson’s case was the first Roundup-related lawsuit against Monsanto to go to trial. An additional 8,700 plaintiffs are waiting in the wings, all of them alleging that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, caused them cancer. Multiply Johnson’s award by that number and Bayer is facing a liability of $680 billion. 
 NBC News
Julie Fidler has written hundreds of articles on key world topics such as health, drugs, and law. She is also the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. Oh, and she loves to take care of two ridiculously- spoiled cats in her free time.