Judge upholds Monsanto verdict, cuts award to $78 million

In this Aug. 10, 2018, file photo, plaintiff DeWayne Johnson reacts after hearing the verdict in his case against Monsanto at the Superior Court in San Francisco. (AP)
Updated 23 October 2018

Judge upholds Monsanto verdict, cuts award to $78 million

  • The jury awarded punitive damages after it found that the St. Louis-based agribusiness had purposely ignored warnings and evidence that its popular Roundup product causes cancer, including Johnson’s lymphoma

SAN FRANCISCO: A Northern California judge on Monday upheld a jury’s verdict that found Monsanto’s weed killer caused a groundskeeper’s cancer, but she slashed the amount of money to be paid from $289 million to $78 million.
In denying Monsanto’s request for a new trial, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos cut the jury’s punitive damage award from $250 million to $39 million. The judge had earlier said she had strong doubts about the jury’s entire punitive damage award.
Bolanos gave DeWayne Johnson until Dec. 7 to accept the reduced amount or demand a new trial.
Johnson’s spokeswoman Diana McKinley said he and his lawyers are reviewing the decision and haven’t decided the next step. “Although we believe a reduction in punitive damages was unwarranted and we are weighing the options, we are pleased the court did not disturb the verdict,” she said.
Monsanto spokesman Daniel Childs said that the company was pleased with the reduced reward but still planned to appeal the verdict. Childs said there’s no scientific proof linking Roundup to cancer.
The jury awarded punitive damages after it found that the St. Louis-based agribusiness had purposely ignored warnings and evidence that its popular Roundup product causes cancer, including Johnson’s lymphoma.
Punitive damages are designed to punish companies that juries determine have purposely misbehaved and to deter others from operating similarly.
In a tentative ruling on Oct. 11, Bolanos said it appeared the jurors overreached with their punitive damages award. She said then that she was considering wiping out the $250 million judgment after finding no compelling evidence presented at trial that Monsanto employees ignored evidence that the weed killer caused cancer.
The judge reversed course Monday and said she was compelled to honor the jurors’ conclusions after they listened to expert witnesses for both sides debate the merits of Johnson’s claim.
The judge said jurors are entitled to accept the conclusion of Johnson’s expert witness who said Roundup caused his cancer and reject the conclusions of Monsanto’s expert witnesses, who concluded there’s no proof the weed killer causes cancer.
“Thus, the jury could conclude that Monsanto acted with malice by consciously disregarding a probable safety risk,” Bolanos wrote in her ruling.
Some jurors were so upset by the prospect of having their verdict thrown out that they wrote to Bolanos, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
“I urge you to respect and honor our verdict and the six weeks of our lives that we dedicated to this trial,” juror Gary Kitahata wrote. Juror Robert Howard said the jury paid “studious attention” to the evidence and any decision to overturn its verdict would shake his confidence in the judicial system.
The judge did slash the $250 million punitive damage to $39 million, the same amount the jury awarded Johnson for other damages.
Johnson’s lawsuit is among hundreds alleging Roundup caused cancer, but it was the first one to go to trial.
Johnson sprayed Roundup and a similar product, Ranger Pro, at his job as a pest control manager at a San Francisco Bay Area school district, according to his attorneys. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014 at age 42.
Many government regulators have rejected a link between the weed killer’s active chemical — glyphosate — and cancer. Monsanto has vehemently denied such a connection, saying hundreds of studies have established that glyphosate is safe.


Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

Updated 13 October 2019

Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

  • EU leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday for a summit held under the pressures of the October 31 Brexit deadline

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson played down hopes Sunday of a breakthrough in his last-ditch bid to strike an amicable divorce deal with the European Union.
Negotiators went behind closed doors for intensive talks in Brussels after Johnson outlined a new set of proposals to Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday.
They have very little time left to succeed.
EU leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday for a summit held under the pressures of the October 31 Brexit deadline just two weeks away.
The 27 would ideally like to have a full proposal to vote on by then.
But the sides are trying to achieve in a few days what they had failed to in the more than three years since Britons first voted to leave the European Union after nearly 50 years.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier called the weekend negotiations “constructive” enough to keep going for another day.
“A lot of work remains to be done,” Barnier stressed in a statement to EU ambassadors.
“Discussions at technical level will continue (Monday).”
Downing Street said Johnson also told his cabinet to brace for a cliff-hanger finish.
He reiterated “that a pathway to a deal could be seen but that there is still a significant amount of work to get there and we must remain prepared to leave on October 31,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
Johnson rose to power in July on a promise not to extend Brexit for a third time this year — even for a few weeks.
Breaking that pledge could come back to haunt him in an early general election that most predict for the coming months.
Johnson is under parliamentary orders to seek a extension until January 31 of next year if no deal emerges by Saturday.
He has promised to both follow the law and get Britain out by October 31 — a contradiction that might end up being settled in court.
Outgoing EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker said British politics were getting more difficult to decipher than the riddle of an “Egyptian sphinx.”
“If the British ask for more time, which they probably will not, it would in my view be a historical nonsense to refuse them,” Juncker told Austria’s Kurier newspaper.
Ireland’s Varadkar hinted on Thursday that he could support the talks running on up to the October 31 deadline if a deal seemed within reach.
The few details that have leaked out suggest a compromise around the contentious Irish border issue Britain’s Northern Ireland partially aligned with EU customs rules.
Whether such a fudge suits both Brussels and the more ardent Brexit backers in parliament who must still approve a deal should become clearer by the end of the week.
Britain will only avoid a chaotic breakup with its closest trading partners if the agreement is also passed by the UK parliament — something it has failed to do three times.
Johnson heads a minority government and must rely on the full backing of not only his own fractured Conservatives but also Northern Ireland’s small Democratic Unionist Party.
DUP’s parliamentary leader Nigel Dodds warned Johnson that “Northern Ireland must remain entirely in the customs union of the United Kingdom” and not the EU.
“And Boris Johnson knows it very well,” Dodds told Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper.
The comments do not necessarily rule out DUP support.
UK media are presenting Johnson’s mooted compromise as a “double customs” plan that could be interpreted to mean that Northern Ireland is leaving EU rules.
Yet details are still under discussion and the prime minister’s allies are urging lawmakers to give the British leader a chance.
Main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn signalled Sunday that he would wait for the outcome of the EU summit before trying to force an early election.
But he added that there was “a strong possibility” that those polls would come before the Christmas break.