OAKLAND – Alameda County Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith reduced a landmark $2 billion jury verdict to $87 million in the case of Alva and Alberta Pilliod against the maker of Roundup earlier this month.
Smith tentatively granted Monsanto’s motion for a new trial earlier this month if the two parties could not come to terms on an agreement of reduced damages. Those terms were met at a hearing last week.
Despite Smith’s decision to significantly slash the damages, plaintiffs’ attorney Brent Wisner of Baum Hedlund Aristei Goldman expressed his confidence in what he still sees as a big win for his clients.
“This is a major victory for the Pilliods,” said Wisner in a statement. “The judge rejected every argument Monsanto raised and sustained a very substantial verdict. While we believe the reduction in damages does not fairly capture the pain and suffering experienced by Alva and Alberta, the overall result is a big win.”
Plaintiffs Alva and Alberta Pilliod initially won the verdict in May after alleging that glyphosate, the active chemical within Roundup, was a substantial factor in causing their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) and that the company failed to warn its customers of the dangers that its product posed.
In response to Monsanto’s motion to seek a new trial, Smith noted that the amount of damages awarded was too high.
“The punitive damages that made up most of the award should be reduced,” said Judge Smith in the 15-page opinion. “The court is inclined to find that appropriate punitive damages are an amount [2-4] times the combined economic and non-economic compensatory damages.”
The Pilliods, both in their 70s, alleged they used Roundup around several Bay Area properties for three decades before stopping in 2016 when they became aware of a possible link between glyphosate and NHL. They won the third straight trial against Bayer, who purchased Monsanto last year, in which plaintiffs allege that Roundup was a substantial factor in causing their cancer.
Bayer still plans on appealing the case on the grounds that its product is proven to be safe and what they claim to be improper conduct by the Pilliods’ legal counsel during the trial.
“First…the misconduct was egregious and rampant,” Monsanto wrote in a post-trial brief. “Second, the misconduct persisted despite sustained objections and repeated admonishments from the court. Even plaintiffs admit the court had to ‘rein in counsel when he got heated during rebuttal.’ Third, the atmosphere of the trial was unnecessarily theatrical, with celebrity appearances in the courtroom and counsel’s dramatic demonstrations in which he pretended to be fearful of a Roundup bottle that he knew only contained water. Finally, counsel’s misconduct actually prejudiced the jury, as demonstrated by the excessive punitive damage verdict, which bears no relationship to the evidence or the compensatory damages.”
According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, there are now nearly 18,500 similar cases filed nationwide with the next set to take place in Monsanto’s longtime hometown of St. Louis beginning Monday, Aug. 19. This will be the first Roundup cancer case held outside of the state of California.