Monsanto has asked San Francisco Superior Court judge Suzanne Bolanos to overturn a $289 million jury verdict awarded to a California man who claims glyphosate herbicides caused his terminal cancer, prompting some of the jurors to petition the court to preserve the verdict.
In seeking to reverse the verdict, Monsanto argues lawyers for plaintiff Dewayne Johnson used “legal theatrics” to emotionally manipulate the jury with inflammatory remarks and influence its decision.
Judge Bolanos issued a tentative written ruling Oct. 10 indicating that she would overturn the $250 million in punitive damages the jurors awarded Mr. Johnson and reduce the $33 million awarded for actual damages and shortened life expectancy to about $9 million if she upholds the verdict. Ordering a new trial on punitive damages is another option she is considering.
Judge Bolanos says said there was no “clear and convincing evidence of malice” on Monsanto’s part in its manufacture and promotion of glyphosate products, which the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified as a probable carcinogen. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup and Ranger Pro herbicides.
Mr. Johnson, a 46-year-old father of two, worked as a school groundskeeper in the San Francisco Bay Area. He says he sprayed the Monsanto chemicals about 30 times per year and went through hundreds of gallons of Roundup during the course of his four-year employment as a groundskeeper.
Mr. Johnson suffers from an advanced case of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and is not expected to live into 2020. He attributes his terminal illness to his regular exposure to Roundup chemicals on the job.
Three jurors have written to Judge Bolanos urging her to preserve the jury verdict, insisting that the litigation style of Mr. Johnson’s attorney did not influence their decision.
“They were just not a factor,” Juror Gary Kitahata told Courthouse News “We were told not to consider it, so we didn’t consider it.”
The jurors said that the biggest influencer in their decision was evidence presented during the four-week trial last summer that Monsanto ghostwrote scientific articles that said no link between glyphosate and cancer was found, as well as “questionable connections” between Monsanto and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – a federal agency that has become notoriously inundated by special interests.
“I thought that such an extraordinary exercise of judicial power to quash a jury verdict was appropriate only in the case of jury misconduct or malfeasance,” Mr. Kitahata wrote in his letter to Bolanos.
Mr. Kitahata told Courthouse News that however the jury’s verdict is taken by others, there is clear and convincing evidence Monsanto hid Roundup’s carcinogenicity to stay profitable.
“They had a cash cow on their hands and they were concerned about keeping it on the market,” he told Courthouse News. “[T]heir actions were irresponsible and indecent, so I thought punitive damages were in order.”