Saturday, October 27, 2018

Jury verdict against agribusiness is upheld

Judge slashes punitive award against Monsanto but still blames its Roundup for cancer

A San Francisco Superior Court judge has drastically cut a monetary award against Monsanto but kept a verdict that can mean real trouble for the St. Louis-based agribusiness.
Judge Suzanne Bolanos 
Judge Suzanne Bolanos upheld a jury's verdict that its weed killer, Roundup, "caused a groundskeeper's cancer" through its active chemical ingredient, glyphosate. 

She did so at the same time, according to a recent Associated Press story by Paul Elias, that she slashed the amount of money to be paid to the man from $289 million to $78 million."

While denying Monsanto's request for a new trial, Elias' piece says, she cut the jury's punitive damage award from $250 to $39 million.

His story says that her decision in effect confirms the jury's view that Monsanto "had purposely ignored warnings and evidence that its popular Roundup product causes cancer, including DeWayne Johnson's lymphoma."

In a tentative ruling on Oct. 11, Bolanos had said it appeared to her that the jury had overreached with punitive damages.

She also had indicated, the AP story says, that she might erase the entire $250 million judgment — because she found "no compelling evidence presented at trial that Monsanto employees ignored evidence that the weed killer caused cancer."

But Bolanos clearly reversed herself in yesterday's ruling "and said the jurors appeared to agree with Johnson's expert witness, Dr. Chadi Nahban, who concluded that [Roundup] caused the groundskeeper's cancer."

Some jurors had been "so upset by the prospect of having their verdict thrown out that they wrote to Bolanos," the AP story reported.

"I urge you to respect and honor our verdict and the six weeks of our lives that we dedicated to this trial," the San Francisco Chronicle quoted juror Gary Kitahata as writing.

And Robert Howard, another juror, said he and his fellow jurors had paid "studious attention" the evidence and "any decision to overturn its verdict would shake his confidence in the judicial system," the Associated Press story again quotes the Chronicle.

The final $39 million for punitive damages was the same amount the jury had awarded Johnson for other damages.

Monsanto now faces the prospect of going to trial in hundreds of other cases already filed that allege Roundup has caused cancer — and upwards of 5,000 other instances.

Elias' story notes that "Johnson had 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."

He allegedly had applied the weed killer as many as 30 times a year.

Bolanos gave Johnson until Dec. 7 "to accept the reduced amount or demand a new trial," the AP article reports. The plaintiff's spokesperson, Diane McKinley, said that "although we believe a reduction in punitive damages was unwarranted and we are weighing the options, we are pleased the court did not disturb the verdict."

Punitive damages, the story adds, "are designed to punish companies that juries determine have purposely misbehaved and to deter others from operating similarly."

More information on lawsuits about products allegedly causing disease can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

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