A California judge on Thursday slashed a massive $2 billion (€1.8 billion) jury verdict against Bayer-owned Monsanto to $86.7 million, saying the award to a couple who claimed the agribusiness giant's Roundup weed killer caused their cancer was excessive and unconstitutional.
Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith of the California Superior Court in Oakland said the plaintiffs, Alva and Alberta Pilliod, would receive around $17 million in compensatory damages and $69 million in punitive damages. That is down from $55 million and $2 billion, respectively.
The couple has to formally accept the new compensation. If the parties fail to agree the case would go to a retrial.
A state court jury in Oakland in May found that the Pilliods' use of the glyphosate-based herbicide for over 30 years at their home and other properties caused them to contract non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Bayer had asked Smith to eliminate the punitive damages because studies and regulators had deemed Roundup safe. The German company plans to appeal.
"We continue to believe that the verdict and damage awards are not supported by the evidence at trial and conflict with the extensive body of reliable science and conclusions of leading health regulators worldwide that confirms glyphosate-based herbicides can be used safely and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic," the company said.
Raft of lawsuits on the way
Bayer faces lawsuits from more than 13,400 plaintiffs across the United States claiming that glyphosate-based weed killers pose health and environmental risks. Bayer has lost three consecutive cases in California courts, pounding its share price and leaving the entire company with a stock market capitalization less than the $63 billion it paid for Monsanto in a takeover completed last year.
The lawsuits claim Monsanto deliberately manipulated science, regulatory agencies and the media to hide knowledge that glyphosate is carcinogenic. Bayer denies the allegations.
In her judgment on Thursday, Smith rejected the arguments.
"In this case there was clear and convincing evidence that Monsanto made efforts to impede, discourage, or distort scientific inquiry and the resulting science," Smith said.
The pile of cases against Monsanto rely on assessments of Californian health authorities and a 2015 finding by the International Agency for Research on Cancer that the chemical probably causes cancer.
In April, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reaffirmed that the active ingredient found in Roundup is safe.
cw/msh (dpa, Reuters)