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California judge mulls new trial in $289M Roundup award

A San Francisco judge said Wednesday she is considering tossing out the lion's share of the $28..

A San Francisco judge said Wednesday she is considering tossing out the lion's share of the $289 million judgment against agribusiness giant Monsanto and ordering a new trial over whether the company's weed-killer caused a groundskeeper's cancer.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos didn't formally rule on any issues after a two-hour hearing to consider Monsanto's demand to toss out the entire jury verdict in the first of thousands of similar cases across the country to go to trial.

The San Francisco jury in August said Monsanto knew — or should have known — its best-selling Roundup weed-killer causes cancer and hit the company with $250 million in punitive damages, which are designed to punish companies who act recklessly. The jury also awarded DeWayne Johnson $33 million in so-called "pain-and-suffering" damages and $6 million in actual damages.

But Bolanos issued a written tentative ruling ahead of the hearing saying she intended to strike down the punitive damages and schedule a new trial on that issue.

During the hearing, Bolanos also said she was troubled by the $33 million in "non-economic" pain-and-suffering damages the jury awarded. Johnson's lawyer argued for $1 million a year for the next 33 years. But Monsanto's lawyers argued that Johnson is expected to live for two more years — an argument that appeared to resonate with Bolanos who mulled out loud about fashioning an order reducing the entire verdict to under $9 million.

Ultimately, Bolanos ordered lawyers to submit written argument by Friday and said she would rule after that.

Johnson and his lawyers left court without comment. So did Monsanto's legal team.

However, Bayer AG, which acquired Monsanto in June, said it agreed with the judge and "continues to believe that the evidence at trial does not support the verdict and the damage awards."

"The jury's verdict was wholly at odds with over 40 years of real-world use, an extensive body of scientific data and analysis … and approvals in 160 countries, which support the conclusion that glyphosate-based herbicides are safe when used as directed and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic," Bayer's statement said.

"Tentative rulings are common in California and it's rare for judges to reverse themselves," said David Levine, a professor at the University of California's Hastings Law School in San Francisco.

During the hearing, the judge said she was concerned with improper statements Johnson's lawyer Brent Wisner made during his closing arguments. Despite the judge's order not to, Wisner compared Monsanto to tobacco companies and said company executives would be drinking champagne in their boardroom if the jury sided with the St. Louis-based company.

The judge admonished the jury to disregard those comments at the time, but wondered Wednesday if they entitled Monsanto to a new trial.

"It was intentional and purposeful," Monsanto attorney George Lombardi argued.

Johnson's lawyer Michael Miller said the judge's admonition during the closing arguments was sufficient.

"The jury did not miscarry justice," Miller said. "Its decision was unanimous it should be respected."

In her tentative ruling, Bolanos wrote that plaintiff Johnson failed to produce "clear and convincing evidence of malice or oppression" by Monsanto. She wrote that he did not provide any evidence that Monsanto employees believed that exposure to the product caused his lymphoma.

Monsanto had argued ahead of the hearing that Johnson failed to prove that Roundup or similar herbicides caused his lymphoma and presented no evidence that Monsanto executives were malicious in marketing it.

Regulators around the world have concluded on "multiple occasions" that the active ingredient in Roundup — glyphosate — is not a human carcinogen, the attorneys said in court documents. They called the jury verdict extraordinary and said it requires "exceptional scrutiny."

Johnson's attorneys responded in court documents that the jury was well-educated and attentive. The evidence at trial was "more than sufficient to support an inference" that Johnson's cancer was caused by his exposure to Monsanto's herbicides, the attorneys said.

"Mr. Johnson's story is tragic and could have been prevented if Monsanto actually showed a modicum of care about human safety," they said.

Johnson's lawsuit is among hundreds alleging Roundup caused cancer, but it was the first one to go to trial. The jury in August determined that Roundup contributed to Johnson's cancer and Monsanto should have provided a label warning of a potential health hazard.

Johnson sprayed Roundup and a similar product, Ranger Pro, at his job as a pest control manager at a San Francisco Bay Area school district, according to his attorneys. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2014 at age 42.

Many government regulators have rejected a link between glyphosate and cancer. Monsanto has vehemently denied such a connection, saying hundreds of studies have established that glyphosate is safe.

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Health

A collar might help prevent sports-related concussions: Study

Team sports build character, teach discipline and keep your kids healthy, but for some sports, like ..

Team sports build character, teach discipline and keep your kids healthy, but for some sports, like soccer and football, they could also increase their risk of brain injuries. Helping to prevent these injuries, a new neck collar has shown promising results in protecting the brain.

The specialized collar, developed by researchers at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, applies pressure to the back of the neck. This pressure allows the artery in the neck to safely backfill the brain with blood, turning the blood into a cushion that makes it less likely for the brain to move upon impact.

The idea for the collar was born out of “biological mimicry,” Dr. David Smith, a visiting research scientist at the Children's Hospital who led a study that tested the collar, told ABC News.

Essentially, Smith and his colleagues looked to nature to solve a medical issue. “If a woodpecker could repeatedly hit its head and not sustain any head injury, why couldnt this be applied to humans,” Smith said.

The study involved 75 teen girls ages 14 to 18 who played for two local high school soccer teams. Only one team received the collars, and then they played soccer. Both teams were asked to undergo brain scans at the beginning and end of the season, as well as during the off-season.

The scans showed that while the brains of the team that hadnt worn the collars showed signs of damage from head impacts, the brains of the team that had worn the collars remained the same.

The results are encouraging considering that even minor impacts over the course of an athletes career can have long-lasting effects on their cognitive functioning.

Concussions have emerged as a major health concern across the United States, according to the American Academy of Physicians. Emergency departments report more than a million visits annually for traumatic brain injuries, most of which are concussions.

Womens soccer is the third most common cause of concussion in the U.S., and its estimated that 1.6 to 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur each year.

There is a debate as to whether the changes shown in the brain scans can result in long-term cognitive decline. However, the areas of the brain that were affected in this study are involved in behavior, personality, expression, decision-making, and long-term memory. (more…)

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Baby box safety doubts raised by experts

Baby boxes are being promoted as a safe alternative to standard cots, bassinets and Moses baskets de..

Baby boxes are being promoted as a safe alternative to standard cots, bassinets and Moses baskets despite a lack of evidence on their safety, experts warn.

The cardboard boxes, which come with items like clothes and blankets and can be used as a bed, are offered to new mums in Scotland and parts of England.

The Royal College of Midwives wants the scheme rolled out across the UK, saying it offers a "more equal start to life".

But experts have raised concerns about how safe the boxes are to sleep in.

Writing in a letter to the BMJ, Prof Peter Blair and colleagues say that, as the evidence stands, the boxes should only be used as a temporary bed if nothing else is available.

The boxes, which come with a mattress, have routinely been given to every expectant mother in Finland since the 1930s.

Scotland started offering the free boxes to new parents last year, while some NHS Trusts in England have had pilot and full schemes in place for up to two years. The boxes are not offered by health bodies in Wales or Northern Ireland.

The Royal College of Midwives says the boxes can reduce the likelihood of babies sleeping unsafely, either on a surface like a sofa or with parents who smoke, drink alcohol, or take drugs, and would particularly benefit those born into deprived environments.

However, Prof Blair and colleagues, including representatives of the cot death charity Lullaby Trust, said there was a lack of evidence into how safe the boxes are for sleeping in.

Compared with cots, bassinets and Moses baskets, it is harder for parents to easily see their babies when they are sleeping in them, they warned. (more…)

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Contaminated blood victims ‘on the breadline’

People affected by the contaminated blood scandal “lost everything” and “had to live on the breadlin..

People affected by the contaminated blood scandal "lost everything" and "had to live on the breadline" as they struggled financially, the chairman of the public inquiry says.

In a letter to the Cabinet Office, Sir Brian Langstaff said "decisive action" was needed over the support available.

There is a variety of schemes running across the UK.

Sir Brian said he was concerned about what he heard during the preliminary hearings, which started last month.

The inquiry is expected to last more than two years and is looking into how thousands of people in the 1970s and 1980s were given blood products infected with hepatitis viruses and HIV, and the impact this had on their families.

It will also examine whether there has been any attempt to cover up the scandal.

In his letter to Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, Sir Brian wrote: "You should be aware that there were considerable concerns during the preliminary hearings about access to and variations in financial support and psychological support, and also concern that not everyone who was infected has been identified.

"During the Commemoration people were heard asking 'where is the compassion?' and describing how they had 'lost everything', had to 'live on the breadline' and 'feel betrayed'.

"Throughout the preliminary hearings there were repeated calls for financial assistance which fully recompenses individuals and families for the losses they have suffered.

"One of the legal representatives said: 'Recently there have been changes to the way in which these funds are administered, but any suggestion that this represents proper compensation for the hurt they have, they are and will continue to suffer, is met with anger and indignation.' (more…)

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