Bayer loses California appeal of Roundup verdict

Damages payable to plaintiff are further reduced

Plaintiff Dewayne Johnson listens as attorney Brent Wisner, not shown, speaks about his condition at trial in San Francisco on July 9, 2018. (File photo: Josh Edelson/Pool via Reuters)

Reuters — Bayer AG failed to persuade a California appeals court to overturn a verdict favouring a school groundskeeper who claimed its Roundup weed killer caused his cancer but reduced the amount of damages by 74 per cent, to US$20.5 million.

The decision by the California Court of Appeal came after a San Francisco jury had in August 2018 awarded $289.2 million to the plaintiff Dewayne Johnson for his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a sum later cut by the trial judge to $78.5 million (all figures US$).

Johnson’s case is separate from Bayer’s agreement on June 24 to pay up to $10.9 billion to settle nearly 100,000 lawsuits in the United States linking glyphosate-based Roundup to cancer.

If upheld, the verdict and payout could make it harder for Bayer to resolve lawsuits by other plaintiffs.

The German drugs and pesticides company inherited liability for the lawsuits when it bought Monsanto, which had produced Roundup, for $63 billion in 2018.

In a statement, Bayer called Monday’s decision “a step in the right direction” but said it may appeal to the California Supreme Court, calling the verdict inconsistent with the evidence and the law.

Bayer has long said regulators have deemed glyphosate safe. “We continue to stand strongly behind the safety and utility of Roundup,” the company said.

In its 86-page decision, the appeals court said Johnson offered “abundant” evidence that glyphosate, together with other ingredients in Roundup products, caused his cancer.

But it said the payout must be reduced because California law did not afford damages for a shortened life expectancy.

Johnson’s lawyer R. Brent Wisner called the decision another major victory for his client, who is known as Lee, despite the reduced damages.

“That Lee will not live an entire life with his wife and children should be compensable,” he said. “Hopefully, when this issue gets before the California Supreme Court, we can change this irrational law.”

— Reporting for Reuters by Jonathan Stempel and Tina Bellon in New York.

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