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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Roundup cancer lawsuits is being urged to leave an $80 million verdict intact by one of the jurors who listened to evidence in the case throughout February and March, which was the first “bellwether” trial in the federal court system.
The letter was submitted by an unidentified juror involved in a multi-week trial for claims brought by Edwin Hardeman, a California homeowner who developed non-Hodgkins lymphoma after spraying Roundup to kill weeds over a period of three decades.
The jury determined that Roundup was a substantial cause of Hardeman’s cancer, and found Monsanto liable for failing to warn about the risks associated with the glyphosate-based weedkiller.
According to the letter, the jury thought long and hard about the $5 million in compensatory damages awarded, as well as the additional $75 million in punitive damages, indicating that the massive award was deserved due to Monsanto’s behavior.
During the first phase of the trial, the jury was only provided evidence about the scientific link between Roundup and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, until after it was determined that Roundup was a cause of the plaintiff’s cancer. However, after that decision was made, the jury was allowed to consider additional evidence during a second phase, which included information that suggested Monsanto has known for years that the widely used weedkiller may cause cancer, yet failed to warn consumers.
Bayer and it’s Monsanto unit have challenged the Roundup verdict, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to justify the damages, and that the amount awarded for compensatory and punitive damages was excessive.
The letter was submitted by juror #5, who is otherwise unidentified, rejecting those claims and standing by the entire jury’s decision, as well as the amounts of damages, particularly punitive damages, awarded in the verdict.
A previous ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court limits punitive damages to a roughly 9-to-1 ratio, based on the compensatory damages, which could cap the verdict at about $45 million. However, the juror noted the high court left room to go beyond that rough limit in exceptional cases, indicating that jurors concluded that Monsanto’s egregious behavior met that criteria in this situation.
“We represented a wide range of educational levels, race, age, socioeconomic backgrounds, and geographic upbringing allowing for every nook and cranny of the evidence to be analyzed six different ways. Sleep was lost, lives were put on hold, and even health was jeopardized because it was our duty to do so,” the juror wrote. “Every single decimal in those numbers is the result of conscious collaboration and calculated, deliberate efforts by all six of us.”
Bayer submitted the letter in a July 8 Memorandum of Points and Authorities (PDF). The company claims the juror’s actions, including the letter and an instance where the juror hugged the plaintiff at a post-trial hearing, are signs of bias.
U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria is currently weighing whether to reduce the verdict, keep it as is, or throw it out entirely and require a new trial. Parties discussed the verdict at a hearing on July 2, during which Judge Chhabria indicated the verdict would be reduced in some fashion, but also indicated that the evidence clearly supported some award of punitive damages to punish the manufacturer.
While the outcome of Judge Chhabria’s decision, and the amount of the final Roundup verdict awarded to Hardeman, will not have a direct impact on other claims, the deliberations are being closely watched by lawyers involved in the litigation, and may influence future settlement negotiations.
Bayer and its Monsanto unit currently face about 15,000 product liability lawsuits filed nationwide by farmers, landscapers, groundskeepers and other consumers diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma following years of Roundup exposure.
At least 1,300 of the Roundup cases are pending in the federal court system, where the litigation has been centralized before Judge Chhabria in the Northern District of California, as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL). However, if the parties fail to reach Roundup settlements to resolve large numbers of cases, Judge Chhabria has indicated he will start remanding claims back to U.S. District Courts nationwide for individual trial dates.
In addition to Hardeman’s trial, two other Roundup cases have gone to trial in California state court, each also resulting in massive damage awards for the plaintiffs, which have been viewed as compelling evidence about how other juries may respond to similar evidence that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation.
Last summer, the first Roundup trial resulted in a $289 million jury verdict for a former school groundskeeper diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Under California law, the damages in that Roundup case were subsequently reduced to $78 million, which both Monsanto and the plaintiffs are each appealing.
Following the Hardeman verdict in March 2019, a third trial ended in May with a landmark $2 billion verdict in California state court, involving compensatory and punitive damages awarded to a husband and wife who were each diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma following use of Roundup.
To facilitate potential settlement of the cases and help guide the parties toward fair offers for damages in each Roundup case, Judge Chhabria has ordered the parties to participate in a mediation process with prominent attorney Ken Feinberg, who has guided some of the largest settlements in high-profile litigation in recent years, including funds to pay claims related to the BP oil spill, Volkswagen emissions scandal, General Motors ignition switch recall, September 11th Victim Compensation fund and others.