Landmark Monsanto Cancer Ruling Remains in Limbo

Dewayne Johnson looks on after hearing the verdict to his case against Monsanto at the Superior Court Of California in San Francisco, California, on August 10, 2018. Monsanto will argue on Wednesday that the verdict should be thrown out.  (JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

UPDATE: A judge is still deciding on whether to uphold a jury's $289 million judgment against agribusiness giant Monsanto.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos ended a two-hour hearing without making a formal ruling. Earlier in the day, she issued a tentative ruling saying she intended to toss out the jury's $250 million punitive damage award and schedule a new trial on that issue. The judge also suggested she may reduce the rest of the award by $31 million if she upholds the jury's decision that Monsanto's weed-killer caused DeWayne Johnson's cancer.

The judge ordered lawyers to submit written legal arguments by Friday and will formally rule later.

Bolanos wrote plaintiff DeWayne Johnson, of Vallejo,  failed to produce "clear and convincing evidence of malice or oppression" by Monsanto. She wrote that he did not provide any evidence that Monsanto employees believed that exposure to the product caused his lymphoma.

Monsanto had argued ahead of the hearing that Johnson failed to prove that Roundup or similar herbicides caused his lymphoma, and presented no evidence that Monsanto executives were malicious in marketing it.

Regulators around the world have concluded on "multiple occasions” that the active ingredient in Roundup — glyphosate — is not a human carcinogen, the attorneys said in court documents. They called the jury verdict “extraordinary” and said it requires “exceptional scrutiny.”

Johnson’s attorneys responded in court documents that the jury was well-educated and attentive. The evidence at trial was “more than sufficient to support an inference” that Johnson’s cancer was caused by his exposure to Monsanto’s herbicides, the attorneys said.

“Mr. Johnson’s story is tragic and could have been prevented if Monsanto actually showed a modicum of care about human safety,” they said.

Johnson’s lawsuit is among hundreds alleging Roundup caused cancer, but it was the first one to go to trial. The jury in August determined that Roundup contributed to Johnson’s cancer, and Monsanto should have provided a label warning of a potential health hazard.

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It awarded Johnson $39 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages.

Johnson sprayed Roundup and a similar product, Ranger Pro, at his job as a pest control manager at a San Francisco Bay Area school district, according to his attorneys. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014 at age 42.

Many government regulators have rejected a link between glyphosate and cancer. Monsanto has vehemently denied such a connection, saying hundreds of studies have established that glyphosate is safe.

 

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