Last week, California Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith reduced a $2 billion dollar verdict against Monsanto to $87 million dollars. The $2 billion dollar verdict was previously awarded to Alva and Alberta Pilliod, who both alleged that they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma from their use of glyphosate containing weed killer. The $2.055 billion award included $55 million in non-economic and economic damages and $1 billion in punitive damages for each of the Pilliods, twice the amount suggested by plaintiffs’ counsel during closing arguments.
While Judge Smith found that punitive damages were warranted based upon Monsanto’s conduct, which she described as showing “a conscious disregard for public health,” she also found that the ratios between the jury’s punitive and compensatory damages were unconstitutionally large. In addition to reducing the punitive damages award, Judge Smith also reduced compensatory damages as to each of the plaintiffs, finding that the awards were not supported by the evidence given the plaintiffs’ other health issues.
A week prior, United States District Court Judge Vince Chabbria ruled similarly in Monsanto’s appeal of an $80 million verdict previously rendered against it in the Edwin Hardeman case. In March, a jury found Monsanto liable for failing to warn that glyphosate could cause cancer and awarded Hardeman, who used glyphosate-containing Roundup to kill weeds and poison oak on his 56-acre property for more than 25 years, approximately $80 million, which included $75 million in punitive damages. Judge Chabbria stated that Monsanto’s conduct was “reprehensible” but did not warrant the jury’s punitive damage award of 15 times the $5 million compensatory damage award, particularly where there was no evidence that Monsanto intentionally concealed a known or obvious safety risk.
The Pilliod and Hardeman cases were the second and third trials against Monsanto stemming from allegations that their Roundup product causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma; the first was the Dewayne Johnson case which was tried last year. In that seminal glyphosate case the jury found that Monsanto’s Roundup and Ranger Pro weed killing products were the cause of plaintiff Dewayne Johnson’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma and awarded Johnson, who mixed and sprayed Roundup as a groundskeeper for a school district in California, $289 million. That verdict was also appealed and was reduced to $78 million.
CMBG3 Law LLC has represented clients in products liability matters, especially with respect to allegedly toxic chemicals. We provide the most current legal advice to our clients by staying on top of developments in science, medicine, and regulations regarding a wide variety of substances and products used by consumers every day. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Michaela Lancer (617-279-8216) or John Gardella (617-279-8225).