SAN FRANCISCO – Last week, a California judge greatly reduced the amount of punitive damages awarded in lawsuit against Monsanto by a man who alleged that the use of its herbicide Roundup caused him to contract non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
"Originally, the jury had issued a very large punitive damage award - $250 million - and then last week, the trial judge denied the motion for retrial and then the judge trimmed the punitive award damage down to $39.25 million," Matt Gatewood at Eversheds Sutherland told the Northern California Record. "The reason that was done was to help the verdict withstand an appeal because if it had been appealed as is with the $250 million punitive damage award, I think the court of appeal would have been more likely to invalidate that part of the award, as the punitive damages so outnumbered the compensatory damages."
The $39.25 million was reached Oct. 22 to make it a 1-to-1 ratio between punitive and compensatory damages to Dewayne Johnson, the plaintiff in the lawsuit handled in San Francisco Superior Court. As a result of this change, the verdict should have a higher probability of being validated in the appeal than it would have been previously, Gatewood said.
Matt Gatewood | Courtesy of Eversheds Sutherland
"If you dig into the evidence that was presented at trial, the defense bar would say that there was a lot more evidence on the defense side than there was on the plaintiff's and it really boiled down to the plaintiff's expert witness connecting well with the jury and convincing them that this particular product was a substantial contributing factor to the plaintiff's alleged injuries," Gatewood said.
Gatewood explained that the plaintiff's allegation put the defendant in the direct line of fire, as he claimed that he contracted cancer after a two-year period of using the product, while the defendant explained that it would have taken more time after the point of contact to when the disease contracted.
"The defense experts tried to explain that it's impossible after such a short time of exposure and that their product was not the cause of the individual's disease, whereas the plaintiff's experts did a good job of convincing the jury otherwise," Gatewood said. "Ultimately, the difficulty here is that 12 lay jurors are asked to make highly complex, scientific decisions in a matter of days after hearing a couple weeks' of evidence, while the scientific community hasn't been able to answer the question after years of research."
Now, Gatewood explained, the appeal court will look into whether there was substantial evidence that supports the verdict from the trial court.