We were euphoric when a San Francisco jury awarded a former school groundskeeper $289 million after finding that he likely developed Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma as the result of repeated exposure to Monsanto’s Ranger Pro herbicide. Ranger Pro is another tradename for the company’s glyphosate herbicide.
We hoped that with a verdict of over a quarter of a billion dollars, maybe Monsanto would start putting safety labels on its products so that no one else would ever have to suffer like DeWayne Johnson. But as experienced courtroom litigators, we knew that Monsanto and its corporate parent Bayer weren’t ready to throw in the towel. With approximately 10,000 other cancer lawsuits pending, the company can’t afford a loss of that size.
Immediately after the verdict, Monsanto said it would appeal. For DeWayne “Lee” Johnson, that means win or lose, he will die broke. Despite winning $289 million, DeWayne’s cancer is terminal and he isn’t expected to still be alive when the appeal is heard.
Unfortunately, that is another tactic of big corporations. They can drag the case out for so many years that many victims just give up hope or their lawyers go broke fighting.
The promised appeal was anticipated. What wasn’t expected, however, is that the judge who heard the case says she may toss the verdict. Last week, Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos tentatively ruled that she would toss out the jury’s $250 million punitive damage award and schedule a new trial on that issue. She also hinted that she may drastically reduce the $39 million compensatory damage portion of the award.
Judges frequently trim punitive damage awards but rarely completely overturn them and almost never tinker with the jury’s award of general damages.
Our Constitutional system gives juries the right to make determinations of liability and damages. Although judges are afforded some leeway in cutting punitive damage awards, they rarely invade the jury’s province of setting compensatory damages.
As unusual as it is for the court to consider completely tossing a punitive damage award or reducing a general damage award, the reaction of the jurors was equally surprising. Many wrote to the court, went on TV and /or intended the court hearing on Monsanto’s request to toss the verdict.
Once a case is over, most jurors head home and let the courts and lawyers figure out all the post-trial motions typical in big cases. Not this jury.
To us, it is gratifying to see juries care so much that they make themselves heard even after the case is over.
Jurors in DeWayne Johnson’s case heard testimony from both sides over 6 long weeks. Unlike a criminal jury which must be unanimous, civil juries in California do not have to be unanimous. But this one was.
Jurors not only awarded DeWayne $39 million for his tremendous pain and suffering, they also awarded $250,000,000.00 in punitive damages. And in awarding punitive damages, they found that Monsanto had acted maliciously by supplying the herbicide to the school district without disclosing its life-threatening effects, and by failing to return Johnson’s phone calls after he became ill.
As Johnson was slowly dying a horrible death, Monsanto couldn’t even be bothered to return his calls seeking information about the product he had used for many years as a groundskeeper.
Jurors had no second thoughts but the court did. On October 11th, Judge Bolanos issued a tentative ruling indicating that she would toss the punitive award and may also reduce the award for DeWayne’s medical bills and pain and suffering.
Punitive Damages Under Attack Nationwide
General damages – called “compensatory damages” in legal terms – are designed to compensate a victim for out of pocket expenses, medical bills, future medical needs, lost wages and pain and suffering.
Punitive damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer so as to prevent similar future conduct. The U.S. Chamber and big business groups have been targeting punitive damages under the guise of tort reform. The real reason they fight them is because they don’t want to be held accountable for their actions. In many states and in the federal system, punitive damages are limited to a specific multiplier.
Monsanto Jurors Are Outraged
After media reports began to surface that Monsanto was planning on attacking the jury verdict, the jurors decided to speak up. Juror Gary Kitahata wrote in a letter to Judge Bolanos, “You may not have been convinced by the evidence but we were. I urge you to respect and honor our verdict and the six weeks of our lives that we dedicated to this trial.”
After the hearing, Kitahata said, “I thought it was the jury’s role to be the judge of evidence.”
Win or lose, we respect the jury’s findings of fact even if we sometimes disagree. Clearly Monsanto does not.
Juror Robert Howard told the court that the possibility “our unanimous verdict could be summarily overturned demeans our system of justice and shakes my confidence in that system.”
Two jurors spoke to ABC news and gave a television interview. According to one of those jurors, “Based on our assessment… I found the witnesses who were Monsanto employees to be not very credible.” [The interview video appears at the end of this post.]
In all 10 jurors, including Kitahata and Howard, attended the recent hearing. As noted above, Judge Bolanos’ ruling is tentative. A final decision is expected on October 22nd. (We have never seen a single juror attend a post-verdict motion. That most would attend is astonishing and refreshing.)
Despite her tentative ruling, Law360 reports that the backlash from the jury may have had a positive impact on the court. They say that by the end of the 2 hour hearing, Judge Bolanos “hinted that she might not toss the putative damages entirely, saying Johnson’s attorneys could address the possibility of a remittitur that would decrease the award without doing away with it altogether.”
A remittitur is the legal term for a voluntary reduction in the amount of punitive damages. We doubt that Monsanto will agree to anything. Too much is at stake for them and their arrogance knows no limits. The judge could decrease the punitive damages, however, without calling for a new trial.
Do You or a Loved One Suffer Lymphoma, Leukemia or Myeloma?
If you or a loved one suffers from leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or myeloma and were a regular user of roundup, you may have a case. Even if your loved one recently died, his or her family may still be able to bring a claim for damages.
Whatever Judge Bolanos decides next week, the battle against Monsanto is far from over. We are seeking to assist groundskeepers, landscapers, farmers and even homeowners who may have contracted certain cancers from using glyphosate based products. Notwithstanding Monsanto’s claims that they are safe, many other scientists and regulatory agencies believe otherwise.
[UPDATE: The Court did not order a new trial but did reduce the punitive damage award to $39 million. Monsanto now owes DeWayne $78 million plus interest. They are expected to appeal. Mr. Johnson also has the right to appeal.
The decision was a sharp contrast to the judge’s previous tentative ruling in which she said she was prepared to completely toss the punitive damage award and was even contemplating overturning the jury’s verdict on liability. She did not give a reason for the sudden about face.
We appreciate that the court took the time to listen to jurors and recognize that they are the arbiters of damages, not the court. The decision will likely encourage even more victims to step forward. We hope so.]
To learn more, visit our Monsanto Roundup Legal Claims information page. That post is updated constantly and contains two of our own informational videos. We also suggest that you visit our blog and use the blog’s search engine to search the term “Monsanto” for other relevant stories.
Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online, by email at or by phone at 202-800-9791. Case accepted nationwide. All Roundup cases accepted on a contingent fee basis meaning you owe us nothing unless we collect.
*Roundup cases have been consolidated pursuant to a Multidistrict Litigation order. Although each case is separate, we participate with other counsel in these cases.
(We apologize about any commercials on the video. They are controlled by ABC and not us. The videos on our claims page are without commercial interruption.)