A federal judge said he’ll probably reduce — but not throw out entirely — an $80 million jury verdict against Bayer AG in the second case to go to trial over claims the company’s Roundup herbicide causes cancer.
U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said at a hearing Tuesday in San Francisco that part of the damages awarded to a California man for his pain and suffering may have been miscalculated and that the $75 million portion of the verdict intended to punish the company may be too high. Punitive damages aren’t supposed to be more than nine times bigger than compensatory damages, he said, citing past court decisions.
Bayer shares rose as much as 1.9% in Frankfurt trading. The German company has vowed to keep defending its popular weed killer after losing three trials since last summer, when it acquired Monsanto Co., the maker of Roundup since the 1970s. But the product is coming under attack globally. Austria’s parliament late Tuesday voted to ban herbicides containing Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, a first in the European Union.
The U.S. case under discussion was brought by Edwin Hardeman, who used the herbicide on his large plot of land in Sonoma County, about 60 miles north of San Francisco. As with many of the other 13,400 consumers suing Bayer, Hardeman alleged that his years of exposure to the chemical caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
One verdict won by a school groundskeeper in San Francisco state court was reduced by a judge to $78.5 million from $289 million. This month, Bayer is set to ask a state judge in Oakland, California, to throw out a $2.055 billion award to an elderly couple. Chhabria said that verdict probably will be cut significantly.
Bayer is scheduled for a fourth trial this summer in St. Louis, where Monsanto was based.
Chhabria said at the hearing that he’s weighing the “reprehensibility” of Monsanto’s behavior in evaluating damages. The judge referred to email and documents presented at Hardeman’s trial in March to show that Monsanto ghostwrote influential studies and improperly leaned on regulators. Bayer countered that scientific studies demonstrated the herbicide is safe and argued to the jury that damning emails were taken out of context.
“There was nothing suggesting that anybody at Monsanto viewed this issue objectively or with any amount of caring for human beings,” Chhabria said. “Where was the evidence that Monsanto actually cared about whether these concerns being raised about its product might have some validity?”
The judge said he’s also considering ordering a new trial for damages only — not liability — in Hardeman’s case.
Chhabria is handling the collection of hundreds of federal suits over Roundup. In May, he appointed mediator Ken Feinberg to try to work out a settlement. At the hearing the judge confirmed that both sides gave their permission for Feinberg to talk to him as part of the mediation.
The case is In re: Roundup Products Liability Litigation, MDL 2741, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).
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