Judge Cuts Roundup Award by $55 Million
US federal judge Vince Chhabria has pared a California jury’s $80 million damage award to Roundup user Edwin Hardeman by $55 million to just over $25 million. The steep reduction relativizes an estimate by the Bloomberg news agency that the sum was the third-largest US product liability jury award so far this year.
Hardeman’s case, which concluded at the end of March 2019, was the second of three Roundup trials that Bayer has lost so far, with more than 13,000 others still pending. During the trial, Hardeman said he regularly used Roundup for more than 25 years to treat poison oak and weeds in his yard.
All of the lawsuits filed against Monsanto to date charge that the herbicide caused the plaintiffs’ non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Commenting on his decision to reduce the compensation, Chhabria said the $75 million in punitive damages was excessive in relation to the $5.3 million the jury awarded in other damages and therefore unconstitutional. He said $20 million in punitive damages – around four times the compensatory damages – was more appropriate under guidelines set by the US Supreme Court.
At the same time, the judge noted that, “based on the evidence that came in at trial, Monsanto deserves to be punished.” Although science has not proven that Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, causes cancer, he said the US agribusiness giant acquired by Bayer for $63 billion in 2018 “didn’t seem to care about investigating whether its product may be carcinogenic.” Instead, it “focused on attacking or undermining the people who raised concerns.”
Bayer’s share price rose slightly following the payout correction but while calling the award reduction “a step in the right direction,” the German group said it still plans to appeal the cases, it lost, as the verdicts are in conflict with scientific evidence and the conclusions of health regulators worldwide that the chemical is not carcinogenic.
Hardeman’s is the second Roundup case in which a judge reduced a jury award.
In the first, which concluded in November 2018, another California judge cut the payout to terminally ill former school groundskeeper Dwayne Johnson from $289 million to $78 million.
In the third trial to date, Alva Pilliod in May 2019 received $18 million in compensatory and $1 billion in punitive damages, his wife Alberta $37 million in compensatory and $1 billion in punitive damages. The couple testified that they used Roundup to kill weeds on their California property between 1975 and 2011.
Just two weeks ago, speculation had been mounting that Bayer might reverse its direction and seek settlement with plaintiffs out of court, in the interest of bolstering its sagging image and share price as well as pacifying unhappy shareholders.