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Judge upholds Monsanto verdict, reduces damages to $86.7 million

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Nik Wojcik/SFBay
Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, Calif.

An Alameda County Superior Court judge has upheld a jury’s verdict that Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller caused cancer in a Livermore couple but substantially reduced their damages from $2 billion to $86.7 million.

In a ruling she first issued Thursday and revised Friday, Judge Winifred Smith said the evidence in a trial that concluded May 13, although it was disputed, supported the jury’s conclusion that Roundup was a substantial factor in causing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in Alva Pilliod, 77, and Alberta Pilliod, 74.

Smith said the evidence also supported that jury’s finding that glyphosate, the herbicide’s active ingredient, could be dangerous while the Pilliods were using it and Monsanto failed to warn them.

Smith wrote that after the company learned of the product’s dangers:

“There was clear and convincing evidence that Monsanto made efforts to impede, discourage, or distort scientific inquiry and the resulting science.”

The judge said:

“[Those efforts] were reprehensible and showed a conscious disregard for public health.”

However, Smith said the ratio between the compensatory and punitive damages were “excessive” and were much higher than the constitutional limits set by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Smith said an appropriate total is $11.2 million in compensatory damages for Alberta Pilliod, $6.1 million in compensatory damages for Alva Pilliod and $69.4 million in punitive damages for both, for a total award of $86.7 million.

Monsanto’s parent company, Bayer AG of Germany, which bought Monsanto for $63 billion last year, said in a statement that Smith’s ruling is “a step in the right direction” but said it still plans to appeal. The Pilliods were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2011 and 2015.

They testified during the trial that they sprayed Roundup on weeds on several properties for three decades and believed it was safe because the product labels and television advertisements did not warn of a cancer risk. The verdict in May was the third by a Bay Area jury against Monsanto, which faces more than 13,000 suits in state and federal courts around the nation.

In the first case, a San Francisco Superior Court jury last year awarded former school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson of Vallejo $289 million, later reduced by the trial judge to $78 million.

In the second case, a federal jury in San Francisco in March granted $80 million to Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa. But two weeks ago the judge in that case reduced the award to $25.2 million.

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