SAN FRANCISCO – A Northern California judge on Monday upheld a jury’s verdict that found Monsanto’s weed killer caused a groundskeeper’s cancer, but she slashed the amount of money to be paid to the man from $289 million to $78 million.
In denying Monsanto’s request for a new trial, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos cut the jury’s punitive damage award from $250 million to $39 million. The judge had earlier said she had strong doubts about the jury’s punitive damage award.
The jury awarded punitive damages after it found that the St. Louis-based agribusiness had purposely ignored warnings and evidence that its popular Roundup product causes cancer, including DeWayne Johnson’s lymphoma.
But in a tentative ruling on Oct. 11, Bolanos said it appeared the jurors overreached with punitive damages. She said then that she was considering wiping out the $250 million judgment after finding no compelling evidence presented at trial that Monsanto employees ignored evidence that the weed killer caused cancer.
The judge reversed course Monday and said the jurors appeared to agree with Johnson’s expert witness, Dr. Chadi Nahban, who concluded that Monsanto’s popular Roundup weed killer caused the groundskeeper’s cancer. She said the company presented its own experts who disagreed with Nahban in a debate that was up to a jury to decide.
Some jurors were so upset by the prospect of having their verdict thrown out that they wrote to Bolanos, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
“I urge you to respect and honor our verdict and the six weeks of our lives that we dedicated to this trial,” juror Gary Kitahata wrote. Juror Robert Howard said the jury paid “studious attention” to the evidence, and any decision to overturn its verdict would shake his confidence in the judicial system.
Nonetheless, she said the $250 million punitive damage award was too high and slashed it to $39 million, the same amount the jury awarded Johnson for other damages.
Johnson’s lawsuit is among hundreds alleging Roundup caused cancer, but it was the first one to go to trial.
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 lymphoma in 2014 at age 42.
Many government regulators have rejected a link between the weed killer’s active chemical – glyphosate – and cancer. Monsanto has vehemently denied such a connection, saying hundreds of studies have established that glyphosate is safe.