Earlier this month, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos could not have been more explicit in her intentions. Citing a failure to provide “clear and convincing evidence of malice or oppression,” Judge Bolanos took aim at the $250 million punitive judgement levied by a jury on Monsanto for their role in causing a California school groundskeeper, husband, and father of two to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In rendering her opinion, the judge ordered a new trial in the matter and both sides began preparing to endure the rigors of another court appearance.
It came as a surprise then as just a few weeks later, and without explanation, the same judge issued a ruling that reduced Mr. Johnson’s punitive award to $39 million but let the previous ruling stand. This is to say that while she believed the punitive award to be excessive, she still believed that punitive damages applied; indicating that the secretive corporation did indeed act with at least some degree of malice when it came to Roundup and glyphosate.
Monsanto’s reaction to the news was as despicable as it was predictable. While Mr. Johnson has, in some opinions, less than two years left to live the company has given him two options in the matter: request a new trial himself or face the inevitability of an appeal if he decides to keep the judge’s new award.
Unfortunately, this cycle appears to be the new “normal” for Mr. Johnson and his family, as any award, ruling, or judgement will likely come with an unending string of appeals that could last for years. And, while the Johnsons stand to reap tens of millions of dollars as a result, Monsanto knows that any acceptance of a finding of wrongdoing on its part may further open the floodgates as more Roundup cancer lawsuits wait to be heard. As it stands right now, hundreds of such suits have been filed. However, a finding that a link between Roundup and cancer and/or that Monsanto acted in a surreptitious manner regarding Roundup would find the corporation in the middle of a storm far worse than it is currently navigating.
The initial $289 million ruling in the matter was a landmark decision. It was, however, nowhere near the last step in the process. In fact, the Johnson family’s nightmare may just be beginning.