Update (July 26): As several legal experts predicted, the $2 billion award for the couple was reduced yesterday to a smaller amount, $86.7 million, after a judge presiding over the case found the punitive portion of the damages to be excessive and unconstitutional. The plaintiffs have yet to formally accept the award, which now consists of around $17 million in compensatory and $69 million in punitive damages, Reuters reports. Bayer has said in a statement that it will appeal for the punitive damages to be struck completely.
A jury in California has ordered global agribusiness Monsanto to pay more than $2 billion to a couple who developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after years of using the company’s weedkiller, Roundup. The verdict—which mandates a payment of $2 billion in punitive damages and a further $55 million in compensatory damages—was delivered on Monday (May 13) and marks the third and largest court loss for Bayer, Monsanto’s parent company, in the ongoing dispute about whether the herbicide promotes the development of cancer.
“Monsanto keeps denying that it causes cancer,” Brent Wisner, a lawyer who represented the couple, told a press conference, Reuters reports. “And these two fine people here are casualties of that deception.”
Alberta and Alva Pilliod, both in their 70s, developed cancer nearly a decade ago after using Roundup regularly around their home and other properties they owned since 1975. Their lawsuit, which they filed in 2017, is one of many alleging that the product’s maker should have done more to warn people of the potential hazards associated with Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate. Around 13,000 plaintiffs across the country currently have suits pending, the Associated Press reports.
Debate about the risks of glyphosate, a broad-spectrum herbicide used widely all over the world, has heated up in recent years. In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer included glyphosate on its list of “probably carcinogenic” substances. The US Environmental Protection Agency and the European Food Safety Authority, meanwhile, maintain that the chemical is unlikely to pose a cancer risk in humans.
In a company statement, Bayer says it will appeal the latest verdict, the AP reports, and adds that “the verdict in this trial has no impact on future cases and trials, as each one has its own factual and legal circumstances.” NPR quotes legal experts as saying that the punitive damages—which are currently 36 times higher than the compensatory damages—will likely be reduced on appeal.
US environmental groups commended the court’s decision. “Juries informed by independent science have repeatedly rejected the Monsanto-promoted myth that glyphosate poses no cancer risks,” Nathan Donley, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, says in a statement, BuzzFeed News reports.
Bayer’s shares have been buffeted by the ongoing legal disputes. Since the first loss in August 2018, in which a man was awarded $289 million (later reduced to $78 million) after claiming that Monsanto’s weedkillers had caused his cancer, the company’s market value has lost about €30 billion ($34 billion), Reuters reports.