News & Insights

Federal Court Judge Reduces $75 Million Verdict Against Roundup To $20 Million

A United States District Court Judge for the Northern District of California has reduced an $75 million punitive damages award against Monsanto Company to $20 million in the nation’s first federally-tried Roundup case.  Hardeman v. Monsanto, 3:16-cv-00525 (N.D. Cal., July 15, 2019).  In reducing the award, the Court stated Monsanto deserves to be punished, but that the punitive damages award was constitutionally impermissible.

The Court upheld the jury’s award of $5.27 million in compensatory damages, finding the award was supported by sufficient evidence.  Guided by the nature of Monsanto’s conduct, the Court concluded punitive damages of $20 million – approximately four times the compensatory damages award – is the maximum award that comports with due process.

In reducing the award, the Court noted the jury’s punitive damages award was approximately 15 times the size of the compensatory damages award.  The Court stated “…Monsanto’s conduct, while reprehensible, does not warrant a ratio of that magnitude, particularly in the absence of evidence showing intentional concealment of a known or obvious safety risk.” 

Plaintiff claimed use of the company’s Roundup weed killer contributed to his developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Plaintiff testified he sprayed Roundup on poison oak and weeds for 26 years.  His cancer, which was diagnosed in 2015, is now in remission. 

Two California state court cases against Monsanto have also gone to trial.  In 2018, a San Francisco jury entered a $289 million verdict in favor of a former groundskeeper, which was later reduced by the trial judge to $78 million.  In May of this year, an Alameda County Superior Court jury awarded a couple $55 million in compensatory damages and $2 billion in punitive damages.  The Court reduced the award to $17 million and $69 million, respectively.

Bayer AG, which acquired Monsanto last year, continues to defend more than 13,000 similar claims in the U.S.  The first case to be tried outside of California is scheduled to begin in August in St. Louis, Missouri.  Juries in this area are known for often hitting companies with large damages awards.