US judge cuts damages on Monsanto in Roundup cancer case

A judge in the US state of California has decided to reduce by over a third the punitive damages levied against Monsanto by a jury that found that Roundup caused a man’s cancer.

According to Judge Vince Chhabria, the punitive damages of $75 million (€60.3 million) was “constitutionally impermissible” and that the ratio of compensatory damages – which the jury put at just over $5 million – compared to punitive damages was excessive.

This ratio was 1-15, with the judge saying that a ration in the region of 1-4 would have been more appropriate, highlighting that the punitive damages are “purely an additional sanction” which are aimed at “deterrence and retribution” rather than compensation.

Judge Chhabria did not dispute the $5 million compensation the jury ordered that Monsanto – which was bought by Bayer last year – pay to Edwin Hardeman, saying that Monsanto’s approach to the safety of the product “was indeed reprehensible”.

Hardeman alleged that his use of Roundup caused his non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL), and presented “substantial evidence of his past emotional and physical suffering”. He is now in remission, and his prognosis is described as “very good” according to a doctor who spoke at the trial.

Going by that evidence, Judge Chhabria, in the second part of his decision – which was made on Monday, July 15 – ruled against the defendant’s motion for a new trial on the basis that the compensatory damages (the $5 million) was excessive.

The judge explained that a motion of this type could only be granted if he was convinced from the evidence that the jury was incorrect in its original verdict.

The $5 million was awarded in two parts: Just over $3 million for past damages (as a result of the cancer diagnosis), and €2 million for future “anxiety, mental suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress and inconvenience” that is expected to result from Hardeman’s continued medical monitoring.

However, Judge Chhabria stressed that the “metaphorical jury is still out” on whether glyphosate causes NHL, and argued that the approval of the product from multiple worldwide agencies “diminishes – to a degree – Monsanto’s culpability”.