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California judge upholds Monsanto verdict but reduces damages payout


The pressure and expectations on both sides of the Monsanto verdict have been high in recent weeks, particularly since San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos appeared to be leaning toward a new trial and tossing the lion’s share of the monetary damages against the biotechnology company. Bolanos, however, opted to uphold the jury’s decision — in her eyes, the verdict stands. That said, she still choose to slash the punitive damages levied against Monsanto to $39 million, down from $250 million.

The total, coupled with other forms of damages, that Johnson is now slated to receive is $78 million. The original amount totaled $289 million.

The verdict, which was initially handed down in August, has become a lightning rod for those vested in food, agriculture, science, and public relations. Anti-Monsanto activists cheered the ruling, and it’s expected there will be many more cases like this in future. At issue was former groundskeeper DeWayne Johnson’s cancer, which was alleged to have arisen from his use of glyphosate-based weedkillers (Ranger Pro and Roundup, both made by Monsanto) while not wearing personal protective equipment. The jury found that Monsanto knew — or should have known — that glyphosate would have toxic effects on humans. 

While most major scientific and governmental bodies (the number is in the hundreds) say that, when used according to the label, glyphosate is not toxic to people, Johnson’s case relied on the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s controversial assessment that glyphosate is a “probable carcinogen.” Johnson’s lawyer claimed that the formulation for Roundup specifically makes it more carcinogenic than the active glyphosate ingredient alone.

Johnson likely has less than two years to live because of the progression of his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The tide appeared to swing in Monsanto’s favor early this month after Bolanos stated that Johnson “presented no clear and convincing evidence of malice or oppression to support an award of punitive damages.” Both legal teams were given the opportunity to solidify their case, after which Bolanos issued Monday’s ruling that there would be no new trial. 

Stock shares for Bayer, which now owns Monsanto, fell several percentage points after the announcement. Bayer has already said that it will appeal. The judge set a deadline of December for Johnson to accept the new dollar amount or choose to have a new trial.

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