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Judge Cuts Monsanto Award From $289M to $78.5M

A San Francisco judge popped the balloon on a $250 million punitive damages award against Monsanto, but affirmed a jury verdict that found the company's weedkiller caused cancer in a former groundskeeper.

According to evidence at trial, the plaintiff contracted non-Hodgkin's lymphoma by repeatedly spraying high concentrations of Roundup. Judge Suzanne Bolanos upheld a $39.2 million compensatory damages award, and reduced punitive damages to $39.2 million.

The judge could still order a new trial if DeWayne "Lee" Johnson refuses the reduced award in Johnson v. Monsanto Company. As for his lawyer, he popped the corks too early.

Popping the Corks

Attorney Brent Wisner had a winning closing argument, but the judge didn't like the part about popping champagne corks. Wisner told jurors that the defendants were waiting for the verdict, and "if the damages number isn't significant enough, champagne corks will pop."

That argument threatened to erase a $289 million verdict. In her tentative decision, the judge said she might throw out the punitive damages award because the plaintiffs attorneys did not prove malice or fraud by clear and convincing evidence.

Several jurors reportedly wrote her letters, asking her not to overrule their decision. In her final order, Bolanos cut the punitive damages by more than $200.

She said that if Johnson does accept the reduced award, she will set a new trial solely to determine punitive damages.

Headache for Bayer

Bayer, a German multinational company, acquired Monsanto in June. A spokesman said the company will appeal the court decision.

Bloomberg News reported that the ruling spooked investors, as stocks dropped 9 percent after the decision. Johnson's case was the first to go trial among 8,700 Roundup cases pending against the company.

Ian Hilliker, an analyst with Jefferies LLC, told NPR that Bayer's liability could be $680 billion.

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