A jury in the US has ordered agribusiness giant Monsanto to pay a combined $2.055bn (€1.78 bn) to a couple claiming that the company’s popular weedkiller Roundup Ready caused their cancers.
The jury’s verdict is the third such courtroom loss for Monsanto in California since August.
But a San Francisco law professor said it is likely a trial judge or appellate court will significantly reduce the punitive damages award.
The state court jury in Oakland concluded that Monsanto’s weedkiller caused the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that Alva Pilliod and Alberta Pilliod each contracted. Jurors awarded them each $1bn in punitive damages in addition to a combined $55m (€49m) in compensatory damages.
Alberta Pilliod, 76, said after the verdict that she and her husband, Alva, have each been battling cancer for the last nine years. She said they are unable to enjoy the same activities they participated in before their cancer diagnosis.
8″It changed our lives forever,” she said.
We couldn’t do things we used to be able to do, and we really resent them for that.
One of the couple’s lawyers, Michael Miller, conceded that the $2bn punitive damages award was likely to be reduced on appeal, but said they are prepared for a long legal battle.
A federal jury in San Francisco ordered the weedkiller maker in March to pay a Sonoma County man $80m (€71 million).
A San Francisco jury last August awarded $289m (€257m) to a former golf course greens keeper who blamed his cancer on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready herbicide. A judge later reduced the award by $200m.
The three California trials were the first of an estimated 13,000 plaintiffs with pending lawsuits against Monsanto across the country to go to trial. St Louis-based Monsanto is owned by the German chemical giant Bayer AG.
Bayer said that it would launch an appeal against the verdict.
“The verdict in this trial has no impact on future cases and trials, as each one has its own factual and legal circumstances,” the company said.
The company noted that none of the California verdicts has been considered by an appeals court and that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers the weedkiller to be safe.
The EPA reaffirmed its position in April, saying that the active ingredient glyphosate found in the weedkiller posed “no risks of concern” for people exposed to it by any means – on farms, in gardens and along roadsides, or as residue left on food crops.
“There is zero chance it will stand,” said David Levine, a professor at the University of California, Hastings School of Law.
He said the ratio between the $2bn in punitive damages and $55m in compensatory damages is too high. He said judges rarely allow punitive damages to exceed four times actual damages awarded.