In a tentative ruling, a San Francisco judge Wednesday granted a new trial in a case against pesticide manufacturer Monsanto brought by a cancer-stricken Vallejo man who was awarded hundreds of millions in damages.
In August, a jury awarded Dewayne Johnson, a former Benicia Unified School District groundskeeper who is terminally ill from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, $39 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages, following an 8-week trial in which he testified to using Monsanto’s product, Roundup, for years.
According to the tentative ruling, the “plaintiff presented no clear and convincing evidence of malice or oppression to support an award of punitive damages.”
Wednesday, Judge Suzanne Bolanos heard arguments from both Johnson’s attorneys and Monsanto’s attorneys and is expected to make a final ruling in the coming weeks on whether to allow a new trial.
Last month, the Missouri-based agrochemical company filed motions seeking a new trial or the dismissal of the verdict, with Monsanto attorneys arguing, “the scientific evidence in this case falls far short of the sufficient and substantial evidence required to sustain this verdict.”
In addition to arguing lack of scientific basis, Monsanto lawyers said that the punitive award was not justified because there was no evidence that company executives acted maliciously in marketing their product, Roundup.
They also said the $39 million compensatory award is too high because it included $33 million for future economic losses. That amount is too much, the attorneys wrote, because “undisputed evidence” at the trial showed that Johnson’s life expectancy is six months to two years.
During the trial, Johnson testified that he used Roundup multiple times between 2012 and 2016 for his job and continued to use it even after he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014 at the age of 42. At one point, he testified, he called Monsanto to ask about a possible link between the pesticide and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but his call was never returned.
After three days of deliberation, the jury concluded that Monsanto’s product Roundup was a “substantial factor in causing harm” to Johnson and that the company failed to warn of the product’s risk.