Business

Bayer’s $1.5 billion Roundup verdict slashed by more than 60%

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Bayer AG’s Monsanto unit persuaded a Missouri judge to cut almost $1 billion from a $1.5 billion jury verdict that was one of the largest in the six years the company has been fighting thousands of claims that its Roundup weedkiller causes cancer.

Judge Daniel Green in Jefferson City, Missouri, refused to grant Monsanto’s post-trial requests that he order a new trial or throw out the entire verdict, but instead slashed the punitive-damages portion of the award by more than 60% to about $550 million, according to court filings.

Slashing the Missouri award may provide some relief to Leverkusen, Germany-based Bayer, whose Monsanto unit has been hit with multiple nine- and ten-figure verdicts over Roundup in the last six months. With so much legal exposure, the company’s new chief executive officer has faced difficult decisions about whether to spin off part of the pharmaceutical-agrochemical conglomerate or put a unit into strategic bankruptcy.

Bayer, which bought Monsanto for $63 billion in 2018, said Friday it will ask Missouri’s appellate courts to review the entire verdict.

“While the court reduced the unconstitutionally excessive damage award, the company believes that the court did not apply the law correctly on damages,” the company said in an emailed statement. 

Jurors had awarded the three plaintiffs a total of $61.1 million in actual damages and $500 million each in punitive damages in November over claims that years of using Roundup on their lawns and gardens caused non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. 

US Supreme Court

The March 15 order reducing the verdict was expected because the US Supreme Court has said punitive damages must be proportional to compensatory awards underlying them and has limited punishment judgments to 10 times actual damages.

Green reduced the punitive damages to about $550 million to meet the Supreme Court threshold. He also ordered Bayer to post an $800 million bond to guarantee payment of the verdict if it’s upheld on appeal. Bayer had asked for a $50 million bond, court documents show.

“The judge actually agreed with the plaintiffs’ suggestion the punitive-damages amounts be reduced to nine times their actual damages,” Jay Utley, a lawyer for the former Roundup users, said Friday in an email. “The awards align with the evidence of Monsanto’s willful, malicious, and reckless disregard for the safety of consumers and the injuries suffered by these plaintiffs.”

Philadelphia Award

In January, a state court jury in Philadelphia ordered Monsanto to pay more than $2.2 billion to a former landscaper. That award is also likely to be cut.

Two years ago, Bayer set aside as much as $16 billion to resolve more than 100,000 cases over Roundup. The conglomerate now faces a second wave of lawsuits alleging glyphosate and other elements of the herbicide are carcinogens. The company said in Friday’s statement that it has won 14 of the last 20 cases to go to trial.

Bayer agreed to transition from the glyphosate version of Roundup to new active weed-killing ingredients in the US consumer market by the end of last year. Plaintiffs contend the company sold Roundup without properly warning them about its cancer risks.

The Missouri case brought together claims of ex-Roundup users who lived across the US. James Draeger and his wife, a landscaper, used the herbicide on their home gardens in Mississippi and in commercial jobs. Dan Anderson, a San Diego resident, and Valorie Gunther, from New York, used it to kill weeds in their yards, according to court filings.

The case is Anderson v. Monsanto, Case No. 22AC-CC00968, Missouri Circuit Court for Cole County (Jefferson City).

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