California judge upholds Monsanto verdict but reduces award to $78 million
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California judge upholds Monsanto verdict but reduces award to $78 million

A judge for the Superior Court of California County of San Francisco on Monday upheld a jury verdict finding Monsanto liable in the case of a groundskeeper who claims to have developed cancer as a result of prolonged use of Monsanto products, but reduced the amount of damages from $298 million to $78 million.

The plaintiff, Dwayne Johnson, a former pest control manager for the California public school system, brought suit against Monsanto alleging the company failed to warn him of cancerous side effects from a possible carcinogen, glyphosate, in their products. At the age of 42 he developed a rash that led to a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a terminal cancer of the lymphatic system. Johnson’s case was fast-tracked due to the severity of his illness.

In August a jury found in favor of Johnson and awarded him damages totaling $298 million, $250 million of which were punitive. Writing for the court, Judge Suzanne Bolanos denied Monsanto’s Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict (JNOV), finding no evidence to disturb the jury’s verdict. However, Bolanos determined that the punitive damages awarded here were inappropriate.

Under California law, Johnson was required “to prove by clear and convincing evidence that an officer, director, or managing agent of Monsanto acted with malice or opposition in the conduct that gave rise to liability.” Although finding that this standard had been met, Bolanos determined that the putative damages in this matter violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as observed by the US Supreme Court in State Farm v. Campbell. Relying on California precedent, Bolanos ordered the punitive damages to be reduced to the maximum allowed under law, equal to that of compensatory damages which is just over $39.25 million.

The order requires Johnson to accept the reduced amount before December 7 or a new trial will be granted as to the punitive damages only.