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Judge considers tossing $289M verdict against Monsanto


It was the verdict two months ago that gave activists a ton of ammunition against their longtime agricultural boogeyman, and it was potentially going to pave the way for hundreds of more lawsuits against Monsanto. But late Wednesday, a San Francisco judge seemed to be leaning toward throwing out the majority of the $289 million jury award to DeWayne Johnson over his claims that a Monsanto weedkiller made him sick.

The jury awarded Johnson $250 million punitive damages over the belief that the agribusiness wore blinders to the effects of its weedkiller ingredient, glyphosate, on people. Johnson was also to receive $33 million for his “pain and suffering,” as well as $6 million in actual damages.

According to The Associated Press, Bolanos issued a written tentative ruling ahead of the hearing saying she intended to strike down the punitive damages and schedule a new trial on that issue. Overall, that’s good news for Monsanto, but it’s unclear what would be different a second time around from the perspective of the jury box. There is hope for a more scientific analysis of Johnson’s cancer and the claims that glyphosate are involved. Many in the scientific community spoke out about the August verdict, saying that the decision was rooted almost solely on emotion and activism (and a parsing of inert weedkiller ingredients) rather than any real science.

The scientific consensus is that glyphosate, which was introduced by Monsanto under the trade name Roundup in 1974 and has been off patent since 2000, is safe when used according to labeled instructions. In fact, despite the way headlines present the current issue, the Johnson case is more about RangerPro (which also is a Monsanto product and has glyphosate as an active ingredient) rather than Roundup.

The Associated Press said that, during Wednesday’s hearing, Bolanos was troubled by the $33 million in “non-economic” pain-and-suffering damages the jury awarded. Johnson’s lawyer wanted $1 million a year for the next 33 years, yet the defense noted that Johnson is expected to live for only two more years — an argument that appeared to resonate with Bolanos. She considered loud about fashioning an order reducing the entire verdict to under $9 million.

Bolanos has ordered lawyers to submit written arguments by Friday and said she would rule after that.

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