Bayer gets tentative ruling for new trial in weed-killer case

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Bayer AG’s (BAYGn.DE) Monsanto unit received a tentative ruling for a new trial on the $250 million in punitive damages awarded by a jury to a groundskeeper who alleged the company’s glyphosate-based weed killers, including Roundup, caused his cancer.

FILE PHOTO: Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller atomizers are displayed for sale at a garden shop near Brussels, Belgium, November 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

According to a Wednesday court filing in San Francisco’s Superior Court of California, Judge Suzanne Bolanos was considering whether to grant the company’s motion for a new trial on the punitive damages.

The judge’s ruling, granting a new trial on the punitive damages, is tentative and was being discussed at a court hearing underway on Wednesday. The Aug. 10 award to Dewayne Johnson included $39 million in compensatory damages.

The combined $289 million verdict marked the first decision finding that Monsanto had failed to warn consumers of the alleged cancer risks posed by glyphosate, the world’s most widely used weed-killer.

Plaintiff Dewayne Johnson leaves the courtroom following a post-trial hearing at the Superior Court in San Francisco, California, U.S., October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Christie

Bayer, which bought Monsanto earlier this year for $63 billion, faces more than 8,000 similar lawsuits in the United States.

The German company has denied the allegation and has said that decades of real-world application and scientific studies have shown the chemical to be safe for human use.

Investors have raised concerns over the litigation risk, with Bayer shares falling sharply after the decision and still trading some 20 percent below their pre-verdict level at 75.10 euros ($86.57) on Wednesday.

In September 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded a decades-long assessment of glyphosate risks and found that the chemical was not a likely carcinogen to humans. However, in 2015 the cancer unit of the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

On Wednesday, the judge said that Johnson had failed to meet his burden of producing clear and convincing evidence of malice or oppression by Monsanto, a requirement for allowing a jury to award punitive damages.

Monsanto had asked Bolanos in court filings on Sept. 18 to set aside the entire verdict or, in the alternative, reduce the award or grant a new trial.

The judge’s order said the company’s request for an entire new trial that includes liability grounds would also be discussed during Wednesday’s court hearing.

Bayer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lawyers for Johnson said they would only comment after Wednesday’s court hearing concludes.

Johnson’s case, filed in 2016, was fast-tracked for trial due to the severity of his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph system, that he alleged was caused by years of exposure to Roundup and Ranger Pro, another Monsanto herbicide that contains glyphosate.

Reporting by Jim Christie in San Francisco; Writing by Tina Bellon in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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