On July 25, 2019, the California Superior Court for Alameda County denied a defendant’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (“JNOV”) in a Roundup personal injury trial that ended earlier this year in a $2 billion verdict. The Court also granted Monsanto’s motion for a new trial, unless plaintiffs stipulate to a reduced judgment of $86.7 million total – a reduction of more than half the award. Roundup is a controversial weed killer manufactured by Monsanto.
In May 2019, the jury awarded more than $2 billion total to plaintiffs Alva and Alberta Pilliod, finding that the weed killer was a substantial factor in causing the couple’s separate non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnoses. (Alberta’s award included $201,166.76 in past economic loss; $2,957,710.00 in future economic loss; $8 million in past non-economic loss; $26 million in future noneconomic loss; and $1 billion in punitive damages; Alva’s award included $47,296.01 in past economic loss; $8 million in past non-economic loss; $10 million in future noneconomic loss; and $1 billion in punitive damages.)
At trial, the plaintiffs alleged they began using Roundup in the 1970s and continued to do so until approximately 2011. As a result, Alva claimed he developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his bones that spread to his pelvis and spine and Alberta claimed she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in her brain in 2015.
Monsanto subsequently filed motions for JNOV and for a new trial. In its recent order, the court rejected the JNOV motion, finding sufficient evidence to support warnings and design defect claims.
With respect to the plaintiffs’ claim for punitive damages, the court found that there was enough evidence to support a finding of malice and ruled that the amount of the award is “limited by constitutional considerations.” In support of the claim, the court referenced evidence of Monsanto’s efforts to “influence research on glyphosate,” the controversial chemical in Roundup. While there was clear and convincing evidence that Monsanto made efforts to impede, discourage, or distort scientific inquiry and the resulting science, the court found the ratio between the compensatory award and the punitive awards were excessive.
As such, the court found that for Alva, the constitutionally permissible punitive damages are $24,589,184.04 (i.e., four times the combined economic and non-economic compensatory damages). For Alberta, the court found that constitutionally permissible punitive damages are $44,804,664 (also four times her combined economic and noneconomic compensatory damages). but excludes money attributable to the future cost of Revlimid (a chemotherapy medication).
“The court excludes the cost of the Revlimid from the punitive damage calculation because although there is evidence to support the cost of the drug as compensatory damages, the evidence is well short of clear and convincing and therefore the court determines that it is not a proper on the facts of this case to include it in the baseline for the punitive damages ratio test,” the court concluded.
In the, rejecting Monsanto’s challenges to the causation evidence and concluding that the “evidence can support a finding that Roundup caused the [plaintiffs] to get NHL.”