U.S. judge to slash $80 million Roundup jury verdict: court hearing

(Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Tuesday said he would reduce an $80 million damage award against Bayer AG BAYGn.DE to $50 million or less in the case of a man who blamed his cancer on glyphosate-based weed killer Roundup.

FILE PHOTO: Logo of Bayer AG is pictured at the annual results news conference of the German drugmaker in Leverkusen, Germany February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay/File Photo

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco said the jury’s $75 million punitive damages award to plaintiff Edwin Hardeman in March could not stand.

“It’s quite clear that under the Constitution I’m required to reduce the punitive damages award and it’s just a question of how much,” Chhabria said during a court hearing in which lawyers for both sides discussed the company’s request to overturn the verdict. Chhabria said he would issue a ruling by the end of next week.

Following a four-week trial, a federal jury on March 27 awarded $5 million in compensatory and $75 million in punitive damages to Hardeman, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014.

U.S. Supreme Court rulings limit the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages to 9 to 1.

Chhabria said he was also considering reducing the compensatory damages award because Hardeman was now in full remission and unlikely to suffer as much as he had in the past.

Bayer, which bought Roundup maker Monsanto for $63 billion last year, says Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate are safe for human use and not carcinogenic.

The company faces lawsuits by more than 13,400 plaintiffs nationwide and a series of Roundup jury verdicts against Bayer have prompted its share price to plummet. Under pressure from activist shareholders, Bayer on Wednesday said it set up a committee to help resolve the litigation and hired an external lawyer to advise its supervisory board.

Bayer had asked Chhabria to completely reverse the jury verdict in Hardeman’s case in light of scientific evidence and assessments by regulators finding glyphosate to be safe.

Brian Stekloff, a lawyer for Bayer, on Tuesday said Monsanto went “above and beyond” to meet regulatory requirements, warranting a complete reversal of the punitive damages award.

But Chhabria disagreed, saying jurors had seen sufficient evidence that Monsanto did not care whether its products cause cancer, instead focusing on undermining people who were raising concerns.

“There was nothing suggesting that anybody at Monsanto viewed this issue objectively or with any consideration for the life of human people,” the judge said.

Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman