A San Francisco judge on Monday drastically reduced the damages award that a jury decided Monsanto had to pay a former school groundskeeper who contracted cancer after spraying the popular weed killer Roundup for years.
Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos reduced the award to $78.5 million from $289 million, despite an extraordinary lobbying effort by jurors to persuade the judge to maintain their original ruling.
The judge left intact the jury’s compensatory award of $39.25 million, but slashed the punitive award from $250 million to $39.25 million so that it matched the compensatory figure.
Dewayne “Lee" Johnson, 46, of Vallejo was a groundskeeper and pest-control manager for Benicia Unified School District from 2012 until May 2016. His job included spraying Monsanto’s herbicide glyphosate from 50-gallon drums 20 to 30 times a year for two to three hours a day. The herbicide is widely sold as Roundup, but Johnson used a high-concentration brand called Ranger Pro.
Johnson sued Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, after he contracted non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014. After a four-week trial that included testimony by medical experts on both sides, jurors found unanimously in August that Monsanto was responsible for Johnson’s illness and should have known of the product’s dangers.
They awarded him $2.3 million in compensatory damages for his past and future economic losses and $37 million for pain and emotional distress — $1 million for each year of what would have been his normal life expectancy after 2014. Jurors also awarded $250 million in punitive damages, finding that the company had “acted with malice or oppression" when it supplied the herbicide to Johnson’s employer without disclosing its possible life-threatening effects, and when company officials failed to return Johnson’s phone calls after he became ill.
“This jury was intelligent, diligent, and followed the letter of the law," said Brent Wisner, Johnson’s attorney. “We are happy the jury’s voice was acknowledged by the court, even if slightly muted."
Johnson has until Dec. 7 to decide whether to accept the reduced award amount. If he rejects it, the judge will set a new trial in which just the punitive damages will be argued.