The first trial over cancer-related glyphosate exposure ended in a $289 million verdict for the plaintiff. Defendants Monsanto and its new parent company, Bayer AG, have already filed motions seeking to either have the award overturned or reduced or for the court to grant a new trial.
In their motions, defense attorneys say that scientific evidence presented by the plaintiff should not have been allowed. Monsanto executive Scott Partridge told the media that the plaintiffs offered “junk science that is not based upon the 40 years of safe glyphosate use and studies,” adding that Johnson’s attorneys “attempted to color science with very emotional arguments designed to inflame jurors” as they vilified the defendant. In the wake of a sharp decline in the value of parent company Bayer’s stock, CEO Werner Baumann attempted to reassure investors that sales of Roundup would continue, citing “more than 800 scientific studies and reviews” supporting the safety of glyphosate.
Therein lies the rub.
Many of those “scientific studies” were bought and paid for by Monsanto itself. On the other hand, independent research has come to different conclusions. That independent research led the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to classify glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen.” Following that, the State of California added glyphosate to its list of substances known to cause cancer in 2017. Monsanto unsuccessfully challenged that decision. Last month, the California Supreme Court refused to hear the company’s appeal.
That independent evidence, given by expert witnesses, is why legal experts believe that the verdict will stand. University of Florida law professor Lars Noah points out, “This is one of those difficult questions at the margins of science and the judge found the evidence simply wasn’t inadmissible.” Expert testimony carries a great amount of weight in product liability litigation. Rules governing the standards of evidence require jurors to rule in the plaintiff’s favor when such testimony demonstrates that a given fact, cause and effect or event is more likely to have happened than not (also known as “preponderance of evidence,” which is different than “reasonable doubt” in a criminal case).
The evidence presented at the Johnson trial is only the beginning, according to plaintiff co-counsel Brent Wisner. In a recent interview on The Highwire, Wisner explained that only 10% of the evidence against Monsanto was presented due to the urgency of the case, which was expedited because Johnson is expected to live only a few more months. “We’ve got hundreds of documents, far more damning than these, showing absolutely definitive misconduct,” Wisner said. “The longer this case goes on, the stronger it will get. If we won here, we’re going to win everywhere.”
The bottom line: even if Monsanto convinces the court to reduce the punitive damages, they will still wind up paying Dewayne Johnson’s family several million dollars – and there are approximately 8,000 more plaintiffs waiting in the wings.
The next hearing is scheduled for October 10th.