Jury awards $2 billion from Monsanto to Tri-Valley couple who developed cancer

Company appealing latest high-price verdict in another Roundup lawsuit

An Alameda County Superior Court jury on Monday awarded more than $2 billion in damages from Monsanto Co. to a Livermore couple who claimed the company's Roundup weedkiller caused both of them to develop cancer, according to a spokeswoman for the plaintiff's lawyers.

The award to Alva and Alberta Pilliod included $1 billion each in punitive damages and $55 million in compensatory damages for economic and non-economic losses for their non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"We've been fighting cancer for nine years. It was caused by Roundup. We can't do the things we used to do and we really resent Monsanto for that," Alberta Pilliod said at a news conference.

"We thought it was incredibly safe. We wish that Monsanto had warned us ahead of time and there was something on the label that said 'danger, may cause cancer.' We would not have used it," she said.

The couple's case is the third to result in a verdict against Monsanto and is the largest judgment thus far against the agribusiness company, now owned by Bayer AG of Germany.

The three cases are the first to go to trial nationwide among more than 13,000 lawsuits filed in state and federal courts against Monsanto by people who say exposure to Roundup, the world's most widely used herbicide, contributed to their cancer.

The jury in the Pilliod case found that Roundup was a substantial factor in causing the couple's cancers and that Monsanto sold a defective product, failed to warn consumers of the dangers and was negligent.

The punitive damages, according to the verdict, were for "malice, oppression or fraud" on Monsanto's part, defined in the jury instructions as including willful and knowing disregard for human safety.

Monsanto's parent company, Bayer AG of Germany, said it plans to appeal. Bayer bought Monsanto last year for $63 billion.

"We have great sympathy for Mr. and Mrs. Pilliod, but the evidence in this case was clear that both have long histories of illnesses known to be substantial risk factors for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma," Bayer said in a statement.

Bayer pointed to a conclusion by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

Alva Pilliod, 76, and Alberta Pilliod, 74, were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2011 and 2015. They testified they sprayed Roundup on weeds on several properties for three decades and believed it was safe because the product labels and television advertisements did not warn of a cancer risk.

The Pilliods' lawyers contended during the Oakland trial that Monsanto suppressed or did not show the EPA some unfavorable studies, influenced and sometimes ghostwrote favorable studies and had a cozy relationship with some EPA regulators. They also claimed the addition of a surfactant to spread the product made formulated Roundup more hazardous than glyphosate alone.

The plaintiff attorneys cited a study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, that concluded glyphosate probably causes cancer. Bayer claims the EPA assessment was more robust than the IARC review.

In the first two cases with verdicts against Monsanto, a San Francisco Superior Court jury last year awarded former school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson of Vallejo $289 million, later reduced by the trial judge to $78 million. In March, a federal jury in San Francisco granted $80 million to Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa.

— Bay City News Service

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