by Carey Gillam
A federal judge has slashed the punitive damages a jury ordered Monsanto to pay to cancer victim Edwin Hardeman from $75 million to $20 million, despite the judge’s description of Monsanto’s conduct surrounding questions about the safety of its Roundup herbicide as “reprehensible.”
U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria ruled Monday that the jury’s decision in the Hardeman case to award punitive damages of $75 million was “constitutionally impermissible.” By lowering it to $20 million, combined with the compensatory damages awarded by the jury, the total the agrochemical company owes Hardeman is $25,267,634.10, the judge said. The original verdict handed down by the six-member jury was $80 million.
Judge Chhabria had many harsh words for Monsanto, which was purchased last year by Bayer AG. He wrote in his ruling that the “evidence presented at trial about Monsanto’s behavior betrayed a lack of concern about the risk that its product might be carcinogenic.”
“Despite years of colorable claims in the scientific community that Roundup causes NHL, Monsanto presented minimal evidence suggesting that it was interested in getting to the bottom of those claims… While Monsanto repeatedly intones that it stands by the safety of its product, the evidence at trial painted the picture of a company focused on attacking or undermining the people who raised concerns, to the exclusion of being an objective arbiter of Roundup’s safety,” Judge Chhabria said in his ruling.
“For example, while the jury was shown emails of Monsanto employees crassly attempting to combat, undermine or explain away challenges to Roundup’s safety, not once was it shown an email suggesting that Monsanto officials were actively committed to conducting an objective assessment of its product. Moreover, because the jury was aware that Monsanto has repeatedly sold – and continues to sell – Roundup without any form of warning label, it was clear that Monsanto’s “conduct involved repeated actions,” rather than “an isolated incident,” the judge wrote.
Judge Chhabria did offer some supportive words for Monsanto’s position, writing that there was no evidence that Monsanto actually hid evidence from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or “had managed to capture the EPA.”
And, the judge noted that no evidence was presented showing that Monsanto “was in fact aware that glyphosate caused cancer but concealed it, thus distinguishing this case from the many cases adjudicating the conduct of the tobacco companies.”
The Hardeman case is one of thousands pending against Monsanto for which Bayer is liable after purchasing the company in June of 2018. Since the purchase, four plaintiffs in three trials have won damages against the company. All allege they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Roundup. They additionally allege that the company knew of scientific evidence showing cancer risks associated with its products, but worked to suppress the information to protect its profits.
Michael Baum, one of the team of attorneys leading the Roundup litigation, said the judge’s decision was wrong.
“The Hardeman jurors carefully weighed the evidence and rendered a rational verdict in line with well recognized jury instructions and case law. There is no valid basis for disturbing their punitive damages award—why bother having jurors sacrifice weeks of their lives if a judge can just substitute his judgment for theirs despite so much evidence supporting their conclusions,” Baum said in a statement.