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A California Superior Court judge affirmed the judgment for Plaintiff Dewayne Johnson against Defendant Monsanto, although the judge reduced the punitive damages from $250 million to $39 million.  Monsanto will have to pay $39 million in compensatory damages and punitive damages. The recovery comes from a trial that was fast-tracked to account for the terminal nature of Johnson’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer, which he alleges was caused by years of exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weed-killer. 

In an earlier, tentative ruling, the judge had stated she was considering dropping the punitive damages altogether, as she did not find that Johnson had proved with clear and convincing evidence that Monsanto exhibited oppression and malice, which is required to wa  rrant punitive damages. Her change of opinion occurred after several of the jurors who heard the case and awarded the damages sent her a letter requesting that she respect their findings. Although the judge did not reference the letter in her statement, she did conclude that the jurors were entitled to their findings. California has capped punitive damages so they cannot exceed a one to one ratio with compensatory damages, which accounts for how the judge arrived at the final number.  

This judgment will have significant ramifications for Monsanto, as well as its parent company, Bayer. There are over 8,000 similar cases filed in the US, and the judge’s ruling could affect all of them. The judgment sent Bayer’s stock plummeting, but it bolstered the spirits of the plaintiffs who have been watching Johnson’s case unfold.  

Monsanto had been hoping that the damages would be dropped altogether and is now planning on filing an appeal based on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s 2017 finding that glyphosate is likely not a carcinogen. The EPA’s conclusion, based on long-term studies, contradicted the World Health Organization’s 2015 declaration that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans. Monsanto’s appeal will be filed in the California Court of Appeals.

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