A jury in Oakland, California, has awarded a couple $2 billion in punitive damages after concluding that sustained exposure to Monsanto Co.'s popular Roundup weed killer led to their cancer diagnoses. That was later reduced to $78 million.
It was the third consecutive USA jury verdict against the company in litigation over the chemical, which Bayer acquired as part of its $63 billion purchase of Monsanto a year ago.
Bayer, Monsanto's parent company, released a statement claiming that the couple had "long histories of illnesses known to be substantial risk factors for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma" and countered allegations that an active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, has been linked to cancer.
In addition to the Hardeman and Pilliod cases, a jury in San Francisco a year ago initially awarded a man, Dewayne Johnson, $289 million in a case related to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and glyphosate-based products, but the judge later slashed the punitive damages levied against Bayer/Monsanto in that case to $39 million, down from $250 million (and left another $39 million in compensatory damages intact). A San Francisco jury last August awarded $289 million to a former golf course greens keeper who blamed his cancer on Monsanto's Roundup Ready herbicide.
The plaintiffs' attorneys estimate that there are now 13,400 similar Roundup cancer cases pending in state and federal courts in the US.
The punitive damages, according to the verdict, were for "malice, oppression or fraud" on Monsanto's part, defined in the jury instructions as including willful and knowing disregard for human safety.
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Hardeman's lawyers said the elderly man developed non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after using Roundup to spray his properties for nearly three decades.
The German chemicals giant faces more than 13,400 USA lawsuits over the herbicide's alleged cancer risk. The company also said it would appeal that decision.
He was diagnosed in 2011. Both of them are now in remission, but their trial had been expedited due to the risk of a relapse and potentially short life expectancy.
Bayer has seen its stock price plummet 40 percent since it purchased Monsanto past year for $63 billion. "The problem is that Monsanto marketed Roundup as being a safe product for decades, even though the company allegedly knew that a Roundup cancer link existed, along with and a host of other serious health issues".
But Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith, who oversaw the Pilliod trial, did not allow Bayer to tell the jury about the latest EPA assessment, saying that the agency's affirmation was not based on new science, but was merely a "comment".