In an order issued yesterday, July 15, Roundup MDL Judge Vince Chhabria denied Monsanto's request to put aside last year's verdict in Hardeman v. Monsanto, where the jury awarded the plaintiff $5 million in compensatory damages and $75 million in punitive damages. Following trial, Monsanto had raised three arguments. First, the company requested a new trial on compensatory damages, arguing that the evidence did not support the size of the $5 million award. Second, Monsanto insisted that the entire punitive damages portion of the verdict was unsupported by the evidence. Third, the company argued that even if the punitive verdict was warranted, it was nonetheless excessive under the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The MDL judge rejected the first two arguments, in each case finding in the plaintiff's favor. According to the court, "[i]t is easy to uphold the award of past noneconomic damages [totaling $3,066,667]" because of the "substantial evidence of [Hardeman's] past emotional and physical suffering ... ." As to whether the evidence warranted punitive damages, the court resoundingly found for the plaintiff: "Monsanto is wrong ... . Based on the evidence that came in at trial, Monsanto deserves to be punished." The court further explained that, "the evidence easily supported a conclusion that Monsanto was more concerned with tamping down safety inquiries and manipulating public opinion than it was with ensuring its product is safe." And in addressing whether the company's conduct was "reprehensible," the court observed: "While Monsanto repeatedly intones that it stands by the safety of its product, the evidence at trial painted the picture of a company focused on attacking or undermining the people who raised concerns, to the exclusion of being an objective arbiter of Roundup's safety."
But in the end, and notwithstanding the court's conclusion that punitive damages were warranted, the court found itself constrained to conclude that the $75 million punitive award was constitutionally excessive and cut the amount $20 million. The court reasoned that the 15:1 punitive-to-compensatory ratio was too steep under Supreme Court case law.