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A California judge indicates that a recent $2 billion verdict in a Roundup case will need to be reduced, suggesting late last week that the final verdict may still require Bayer and it’s Monsanto subsidiary to pay between $165 million and $275 million to an elderly couple dying due to non-Hodgkins lymphoma caused by the controversial weedkiller.
The landmark jury award came following a trial involving claims brought by Alva and Alberta Pilliod, who each developed cancer due to Roundup exposure, and were provided an expedited trial date under California law due to their grave health condition.
The case has been closely watched as a “bellwether”, to help gauge how juries may respond to evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout thousands of Roundup lawsuits filed over Monsanto’s failure to warn about the cancer risk associated with their widely used product.
After considering evidence at trial, the jury determined that the Pilliods should be paid $55 million in compensatory damages, with another $2 billion in punitive damages added to punish Monsanto for its reckless conduct. However, it was widely acknowledged following the verdict that the punitive damage portion of the award would have to be reduced to comply with prior Supreme Court rulings about the constitutional limits on such damages, which are designed to punish defendants and deter similar conduct.
During a hearing late last week, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Winfried Y. Smith suggested that the verdict may be reduced to limit punitive damages to between two and four times the amount of the compensatory damage award, which would still leave Bayer and it’s Monsanto subsidiary with a black eye as it figures out how to deal with more than 15,000 other similar claims. Judge Smith also suggested that a retrial may be necessary if the parties fail to agree on reduced damages.
This case involved the third jury to hammer Bayer’s Monsanto unit with a massive verdict, after prior cases ended with a $289 million verdict in California state court in August 2018, and an $80 million verdict in the federal court system in March 2019. Each of those claims also included large punitive damage awards, which were later reduced by the trial judge to $78 million and $25 million, respectively.
However, none of those reductions help alleviate Bayer and Monsanto’s core problem: every jury shown the evidence not only sides with plaintiffs, but are so convinced Monsanto was deliberately hiding and deceiving the public about the truth regarding Roundup’s health risks that they’ve asked that Monsanto pay above and beyond the normal amount of punitive damages to be adequately punished for their behavior.
With additional cases set to go to trial throughout the rest of 2019 and 2020, the manufacturer could face devastating liability in the courtroom if Roundup settlements are not reached to resolve the litigation.