A judge in San Francisco last week announced that she is considering overturning the historic verdict that would lead to Monsanto being held accountable for manufacturing dangerous cancer-causing weedkillers.
Although San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos hasn’t formally ruled on a decision, she did conduct a two-hour hearing to consider the BigAg company’s demand to toss out the entire jury verdict, which called for Monsanto to pay $289 million in damages. The hearing was scheduled after Bolanos wrote a tentative ruling stating her intention to strike down the punitive damages and schedule a new trial.
In August a jury found that Monsanto knew, or should have known, its best-selling weedkiller, Roundup, causes cancer and demanded the company pay $250 million in punitive damages along with $33 million in “pain-and-suffering” damages and $6 million in actual damages to DeWayne Johnson, a former school groundskeeper who was diagnosed with terminal cancers after using Roundup for years at his job.
Judge Bolanos is hesitant to agree with the $33 million in pain-and-suffering damages specifically and has expressed a desire to reduce the entire verdict to under $9 million. The $33 million to Johnson was scheduled to be paid $1 million a year over the next 33 years, but Monsanto’s lawyers argued against it as Johnson is only expected to live for two more years.
Bolanos has previously argued that the plaintiff’s legal team failed to provide “clear and convincing evidence of malice or oppression” by Monsanto. Monsanto has argued that Johnson failed to prove that Roundup caused his cancer or that Monsanto was malicious in marketing it.
Several of the jurors that ruled unanimously for the verdict are speaking out against Bolanos’ decision to hold a hearing and overturn part, or all, of the verdict. Jurors Gary Kitahata and Robert Howard have both written letters appeals to Judge Bolanos. Kitihata told the San Francisco Chronicle this week that the judge “had a chance to raise these questions during trial and even during jury deliberations. I thought it was the jury’s role to be the judge of evidence.” He also wrote in his letter to the judge, “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.”
Howard echoed this sentiment, stating in his letter that the possibility the jury’s “unanimous verdict could be summarily overturned demeans our system of justice and shakes my confidence in that system.”
Bolanos has ordered lawyers to submit written arguments and says she will rule after that.