Lawyers for the pharmaceutical giant, which owns Monsanto, asked a judge to slash $4 million from a previous California verdict.
Because Dewayne Johnson is not expected to live more than a few more years, he is not entitled to substantial damages for future pain and suffering, Bayer’s lawyers argued in a court filing. Punitive damages should be reduced proportionally, the lawyers added. In August 2018, a jury awarded Johnson, a groundskeeper suffering from terminal cancer related to Roundup exposure, $289 million in damages, a figure the judge reduced to $78 million.
Tens of thousands of similar cases are pending around the country.
The McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case and Damage Reductions
One of the seminal cases in this area was the controversial 1994 case Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants. This dispute, which spawned anti-victim slogans like “jackpot justice” and “lawsuit lotto,” also involved damages which seemed excessive, at least at first glance. But as is so often the case, a closer inspection yields different results.
Stella Liebeck was 79 years old when she bought a cup of coffee in a McDonald’s drive through. She spilled the coffee on her lap and burned herself. She sued the company and won almost $3 million. Politicians around the country used this case as a rallying cry to enact damage caps, statutes of repose, and other tort reform measures.
But this simple narrative overlooks a number of important facts in this still-controversial case. At the time, McDonald’s franchise agreement required restaurants to serve coffee at 190 degrees. That’s just short of boiling. As a result, Liebeck sustained third-degree burns to her inner thighs and genitals. These wounds required skin grafts at a specialty burn center.
Additionally, according to evidence presented at trial, McDonald’s had received almost a thousand complaints about the excessive coffee temperature. Yet the company did nothing about the problem.
According to her family, Liebeck was a lively woman before the accident who worked full-time. She was never the same afterwards, and she died a few years after this case went to court. Again according to her family, most of the money the court awarded went to pay for home healthcare assistance.
During trial, Liebeck’s attorney asked for $2.7 million in punitive damages. That figure was one day of coffee sales for the fast-food giant. Her lawyer considered this amount to be a reasonable punitive damages figure, and the jury apparently agreed.
The judge, citing the excessiveness of the verdict, reduced the damages to $640,000. The parties later settled the matter out of court, and those terms are private.
How Can a Judge Unilaterally Reduce Damages?
Most injury claims settle out of court, so the Liebeck settlement was not surprising. What is surprising is that the judge reduced the damages in that case so drastically. Rules vary in different jurisdictions, But generally, to disregard the jury’s verdict and reduce damages, at least one the following factors must be present:
- Possible jury corruption, or
- The jury based its verdict on passion or prejudice as opposed to evidence.
Therefore, for a large damages award to pass judicial scrutiny, a Lexington personal injury attorney must ensure that there is substantial evidence in the record that supports the jury’s determination.
As outlined below, fault or negligence is usually not relevant in Roundup and other defective product trials, at least for liability reasons. Nevertheless, there must be evidence of such misconduct to support punitive damages.
Finally, judges cannot reduce damage awards because they seem excessive. Instead, judges may only take such action if the damage award was so high that it shocks the consciousness.
For years, scientists have believed that glyphosate, Roundup’s active ingredient, causes cancer. Some of the most recent evidence indicates that glyphosate increases cancer risks by over 40 percent. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is the biggest danger. This form of cancer is particularly lethal because it affects the body’s immune system.
Manufacturers are strictly liable for adverse health effects and other product defects. Victim/plaintiffs must only establish cause, usually by calling expert witnesses to the stand.
There is evidence that Monsanto, and later Bayer, knew about the NHL problem for many years and did nothing to remedy the situation. That callousness justified substantial punitive damages in the Stella Liebeck case, and it could justify such an award in your damages claim as well.
There is a clear link between Roundup and cancer, and these victims are entitled to significant compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. Our main office is conveniently located near the University of Kentucky.