California’s Highest Court Rejects Challenge by Monsanto to Couple’s $86 Million Award in Herbicide Case

By Katabella Roberts
Katabella Roberts
Katabella Roberts
Katabella Roberts is a reporter currently based in Turkey. She covers news and business for The Epoch Times, focusing primarily on the United States.
November 18, 2021 Updated: November 19, 2021

California’s highest court rejected on Wednesday a challenge by Monsanto Co. to $86.2 million in damages to a couple who developed cancer after years of spraying Roundup herbicide on their property.

Roundup, a glyphosate-based weed-killer, has been on the market since the 1970s. Glyphosate, the most commonly used herbicide around the world, kills grasses and broadleaf plants. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization, listed glyphosate as a probable carcinogen in 2015.

The First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco found in a 2–1 ruling in August that Monsanto was at fault for knowingly marketing a product in which the active ingredient could be dangerous, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The state Supreme Court’s denial of review upheld the Aug. 9 appeals court’s ruling in favor of Alva and Alberta Pilliod, the couple from Livermore.

Monsanto’s parent company, Bayer, said it disagreed with the high court’s decision in a statement to the The Epoch Times.

“We respectfully disagree with the California Supreme Court denying review of the Pilliod decision, as the verdict in this case is not supported by the evidence at trial or the law, and we will review our legal options,” a spokesperson said.

“In particular, the Court of Appeal’s decision in Pilliod effectively held that no EPA labeling requirement can ever preempt a state law failure-to-warn claim. In addition, the decision affirmed the largest punitive award to survive appellate review in California history—one that is four times the substantial compensatory award in this case which consists almost entirely of non-economic damages.

“We continue to stand strongly behind the safety of Roundup, a position supported by assessments of expert regulators worldwide as well as the overwhelming weight of four decades of extensive science,” the company said.

Brent Wisner, a lawyer for the Pilliods, said the verdict “was based on solid science and unanimous law” and the company should halt its “frivolous appeals.”

The Epoch Times has contacted Bayer for comment.

Alva and Alberta Pilliod, both suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after years of using Roundup on their property, filed a complaint against Monsanto in 2017 seeking compensatory and punitive damages, based on claims of “design defect and failure to warn.”

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, also known as NHL, is a cancer that affects the body’s lymph system and can spread to other parts of the lymph system if not treated.

Alva Pilliod was diagnosed with the cancer in 2011 in many of his bones, which later spread to his pelvis and spine, and Alberta Pilliod was diagnosed with the same illness four years later, lawyers for the couple said.

Following a six-week trial, an Alameda County jury awarded Alberta over $37 million in compensatory damages, Alva over $18 million in compensatory damages, and awarded each of them $1 billion in punitive damages.

Citing Supreme Court limits on punitive damages, Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith cut those damages to $69 million and the total award to $86.2 million.

The Environmental Protection Agency and European regulators have found that glyphosate “poses no significant cancer risks to the general public, based on currently approved, food-crop uses and the levels of dietary exposure expected in the general population (including residues in drinking water and beverages),” according to a 2019 article in Environmental Sciences Europe.

Bayer announced in July that it would replace its glyphosate-based products in the U.S. residential lawn and garden market with new formulations that rely on alternative active ingredients, starting in 2023, subject to approval.

The company has also agreed to pay $10 billion to settle thousands of lawsuits and has sought to resolve future lawsuits with a settlement fund of up to $2 billion but has so far been unsuccessful, the Chronicle reported.

Katabella Roberts is a reporter currently based in Turkey. She covers news and business for The Epoch Times, focusing primarily on the United States.