Livermore couple awarded more than $2 billion in Monsanto cancer judgement
LIVERMORE, Calif. (KTVU/AP) - An Alameda County jury awarded a Livermore couple a combined $2.055 billion in damages against Monsanto Monday, a decision which attorneys for the couple say clearly shows that the jury found the company's roundup weed killer caused the couple's cancer.
Alberta and Alba Pilliod Of Livermore say they have been battling cancer for nine years. They say they both were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Alba Pilliod remembers the heartbreak getting the news.
"When the doctors told me that she was dying," he said tearfully.
He and his wife were each awarded $1 billion in punitive damages and $55 million in compensatory damages.
The Pilliods said they had used the Roundup herbicide on their yard and other properties for decades.
"Over the years, we were using it probably every week," said Alberta Pilliod.
They saw an ad in a paper by attorney Michael Miller who they said helped connect their cancer to Monsanto's Roundup weed-killer and one of its ingredients glyphosate.
"It was really good to see that the jury saw what we felt and what happened to us," said Alberta Pilliod.
"I think the message is unequivocal that Roundup can cause cancer. It's also pretty clear that Monsanto has known about this for over 45 years," said Brent Wisner, co-lead counsel, from the Los Angeles law firm Baum, Hedlund, Aristei, & Goldman.
Attorneys for the Pilliods say 13,000 other plaintiffs have already filed cases against Monsanto. The Pilliods say they hope this case will cause St. Louis-based Monsanto and its parent German company Bayer to add warning labels about glyphosate in its products.
"They should let consumers make the choice about whether or not they want to use the product. I mean, people smoke cigaretes, but right there on the label it says you know "may cause cancer." That needs to be on the Roundup label," said Wisner.
Bayer issued a statement Monday in response to the verdict.
"We have great sympathy for Mr. and Mrs. Pilliod, but the evidence in this case was clear that both have long histories of illnesses known to be substantial risk factors for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL)" Bayer wrote in the statement.
"Bayer is disappointed with the jury's decision and will appeal the verdict in this case, which conflicts directly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's interim registration review decision released just last month, the consensus among leading health regulators worldwide that glyphosate-based products can be used safely and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic," Bayer wrote.
The EPA reaffirmed its position in April, saying that the active ingredient glyphosate found in the weed killer posed "no risks of concern" for people exposed to it by any means -- on farms, in yards and along roadsides, or as residue left on food crops.
Wisner says the EPA oversight has been insufficient and that the agency needs to do a better job of regulating and seeking out independent research to make its assessments of product safety, instead of relying on industry-funded studies.
UC Hastings Law Professor David Levine says these cases bring to light a broader issue of how cases involving science are dealt with in the courts.
"Overall the issue is how difficult it is for juries to decide these questions that are fundamentally scientific questions," said Levine.
This is the third case since August in which a jury has ruled against Monsanto. The previous ones were in federal court and state court in San Francisco.
A federal jury in San Francisco ordered the weed killer maker in March to pay a Sonoma County man $80 million. A San Francisco jury last August awarded $289 million to a former golf course greens keeper who blamed his cancer on Monsanto's Roundup Ready herbicide. A judge later reduced the award by $200 million.
Levine said those cases are currently making their way through the appellate process and the outcome could have a big impact on what Monsanto decides to do about the other pending litigation.
"The verdicts are making it a little more likely that Monsanto will agree to some sort of settlement system," said Levine.
Professor Levine also says the jury's award of $2 billion in damages for the Pilliods will likely be ruled to be excessive upon appeal.
"There is zero chance it will stand," said University of California, Hastings School of Law professor David Levine. He said the ratio between the $2 billion in punitive damages and $55 million in compensatory damages is too high. He said judges rarely allow punitive damages to exceed four times actual damages awarded.
The California Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that any punitive damages exceeding 10 times the compensatory damages are likely unconstitutionally high. The court didn't propose a ratio it felt correct, but said punitive damages should almost never exceed nine times actual damages, it said. The punitive damages awarded Monday are 36 times the actual damages.
The lawsuits have battered Bayer's stock since it purchased Monsanto for $63 billion last year and Bayer's top managers are facing shareholder discontent.
Chairman Werner Wenning told shareholders at Bayer's annual general meeting in Bonn last month that company leaders "very much regret" falls in its share price. At the same time, CEO Werner Baumann insisted that "the acquisition of Monsanto was and remains the right move for Bayer."
Bayer's stock price closed Monday at $15.91 a share, down 45 cents or 2.76 percent per share, in trading on the New York Stock Exchange. The verdict was announced after the trading session closed.
Bayer's share price has lost half its value since it reached s 52-week high of $32.80 a share.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.