A former Vallejo groundskeeper with terminal cancer won an appeal Monday against Monsanto Co., which was seeking to overturn a trial court decision to award the man more than $75 million in damages.
But the California Court of Appeal in San Francisco reduced the award to groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson, who suffers from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, from $78.5 million to $20.5 million.
Johnson had sprayed Monsanto's weed killer Roundup on weeds from 2012 to 2015 while working as a groundskeeper for the Benicia Unified School District. Johnson's attorneys allege Roundup was a substantial cause of his illness.
"The decision ... affirms the jury's unanimous finding that Monsanto is liable for the significant harm suffered by Mr. Johnson and that the company acted with a willful and conscious disregard to the safety of others," said attorney David Dickens with the firm that argued the case on behalf on Johnson.
"We are pleased that the court considered the substantial evidence supporting Mr. Johnson's claims, rejected nearly all of Monsanto's arguments and upheld the liability verdict. The decision brings Mr. Johnson one step closer to obtaining the justice that he deserves," Dickens added.
He did not say what the next step is. Monsanto's parent company Bayer AG of Germany is considering an appeal.
A jury initially awarded Johnson $289 million in 2018 but trial judge Suzanne Bolanos reduced that to $78.5 million, saying the punitive damages of $250 million was excessive by general guidelines set by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In similar cases in federal court in San Francisco and in Alameda County Superior Court, millions were awarded to Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa and Alva Pilliod and Alberta Pilliod of Livermore.
Hardeman was initially awarded $80 million in a case involving Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, but that was reduced by U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria to $25 million.
The Pilliod's were initially awarded $2 billion, which Alameda County Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith reduced to $86.7 million.
Bayer said in April that it faces more than 50,000 Roundup cases in state and federal courts in the United States.
The main ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, is not a carcinogen, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
But in 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans."
In a statement Tuesday, Bayer said, "The appeal court's decision to reduce the compensatory and punitive damages is a step in the right direction, but we continue to believe that the jury's verdict and damage awards are inconsistent with the evidence at trial and the law.
"Monsanto will consider its legal options, including filing an appeal with the Supreme Court of California. We continue to stand strongly behind the safety and utility of Roundup, a position supported by four decades of extensive science and favorable assessments by leading health regulators worldwide."