Monsanto: judge moves to allow new trial after $289m cancer verdict – By Sam Levin (theguardian.com) / Oct 10 2018
Agrochemical company is challenging a landmark ruling that ordered it to pay the award to an ex-groundskeeper dying of cancer
A California judge has moved to grant the agrochemical company Monsanto a new trial after a landmark jury verdict found its herbicide had caused a man’s terminal cancer.
Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, a 46-year-old former groundskeeper, won a $289m award in August in a trial alleging that the popular Roundup weedkiller had made him sick and that Monsanto had failed to warn him of the risks.
Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, the German pharmaceutical company, immediately appealed the verdict, which included punitive damages and economic losses and also found that Monsanto had “acted with malice or oppression”.
The San Francisco superior court judge Suzanne Bolanos cited the “insufficiency of the evidence to justify the award for punitive damages” in a tentative written ruling issued before a hearing on Wednesday. She is expected to make a final decision after attorneys submit additional arguments.
Monsanto sought to overturn the verdict and has continued to argue that it is safe to use glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide. Glyphosate-based products, including the Roundup and Ranger Pro brands, are now worth billions of dollars in revenues, approved for use on more than 100 crops, and registered in 130 countries.
Timothy Litzenburg, one of the attorneys who represented Johnson in the trial, told the Guardian that regardless of the outcome, the original ruling would still have a long-term impact: “There’s been a loud and clear message.”
A Bayer spokesperson praised the tentative ruling in a statement, adding: “The Company continues to believe that the evidence at trial does not support the verdict and the damage awards.”
The initial verdict in favor of Johnson was a historic moment in the longstanding fight against Roundup, which studies have shown is linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a type of blood cancer. Notably, in 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer ruled to classify glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.
Johnson’s attorneys have also presented internal Monsanto emails that they say demonstrated the corporation’s repeated efforts over the years to stifle critical research and to quietly help produce scientific reports that were favorable to glyphosate.
Those claims were bolstered last month when the scientific journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology recently issued an “expression of concern”, saying that research it had published finding glyphosate to be safe had not fully declared Monsanto’s involvement.
Monsanto argued in court that independent research over the years has demonstrated the safety of its products.
Critics of Monsanto and Bayer have also pushed for a label that would warn consumers of the cancer risks. More than 8,000 plaintiffs across the country have brought similar claims against the company echoing Johnson’s complaint. A number of trials are scheduled to start next year.
“I think we are going to win a lot more than we lose. There will always be appeals until Bayer is ready to settle the whole liability,” said Litzenburg, adding, “There are a lot of people out there suffering from this horrible disease that might’ve been avoided with a tiny label.”
In a wide-ranging interview with the Guardian last month, Johnson, a father of three who became sick in 2014, said he planned to continue speaking up about the health risks of Roundup and advocate for new restrictions.
“They have been hiding for years and getting away with it,” he said. “They have to pay the price for not being honest and putting people’s health at risk for the sake of making a profit.”
Johnson is not expected to live more than two years, and doctors have previously said he might only have months left.