SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A federal judge in San Francisco on Monday reduced an $80 million award levied against Monsanto Co. to $25 million for a Sonoma County man who claimed the company’s Roundup weedkiller caused his non-Hodgkins’ lymphoma.
U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria upheld a jury award of approximately $5 million in compensatory damages to Edwin Hardeman, 70, of Santa Rosa, but said guidelines set by the U.S. Supreme Court required him to reduce the jury’s $75 million in punitive damages to $20 million.
Hardeman testified at the trial of his lawsuit in March that he sprayed Roundup on poison oak and weeds on properties in Mendocino and Sonoma counties for 26 years. His cancer was diagnosed in 2015 and is now in remission.
His case was the first federal lawsuit against Monsanto to go to trial. Monsanto, now owned by Bayer AG of Germany, is facing more than 13,000 Roundup lawsuits filed in U.S. federal and state courts. The ruling leaves Hardeman’s total award at $25,267,634. Bayer said it plans to appeal and Hardeman attorney Jennifer Moore said his legal team is also considering an appeal.
Chhabria said a punitive award is appropriate because evidence at the trial “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.”
The judge said there is evidence on both sides as to whether or not glyphosate, the main ingredient of Roundup, causes cancer, but Monsanto’s behavior showed “a lack of concern about the risk that its product might be carcinogenic.”
Two state court cases against Monsanto have also gone to trial and resulted in verdicts against the agrochemical company.
Last year, a San Francisco Superior Court jury awarded former school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson of Vallejo $289 million, later reduced by the trial judge to $78 million.
In May, an Alameda County Superior Court judge awarded $2 billion in punitive damages and $55 million in compensatory damages to Alva and Alberta Pilliod of Livermore, who both developed the lymphoma. Monsanto has asked the trial judge to reduce that award.
Bayer said in its statement on Chhabria’s ruling, “The court’s decision to reduce the punitive damage award is a step in the right direction. Still, the liability verdict and damage awards are not supported by the reliable evidence presented at trial.”
The company said the “the weight of extensive science … supports the safety of Roundup.”
Moore said on behalf of Hardeman, “This is a major victory for Mr. Hardeman and all individuals injured as a result of Roundup. “Judge Chhabria rejected every one of Monsanto’s arguments to throw out the verdict and only reduced the punitive damage award based on his interpretation of the Constitution. We disagree with any reduction of the jury’s verdict.”
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