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Calif. judge mulls overturning $250M award against Monsanto in weedkiller case

Bayer AG unit Monsanto Co. could win a new trial over the $250 million in punitive damages awarded by a jury over allegations that its weedkiller caused a former school groundkeeper's cancer, The Associated Press reported.

DeWayne Johnson, who also goes by the name of Lee, claimed that the world's top seed company had the knowledge that its glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup could cause cancer, but failed to make that information available to the public. Johnson alleged that the weedkiller caused his non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a form of blood cancer.

During an Oct. 10 hearing, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos issued a tentative ruling for a new trial as she considers striking down the punitive damages. Bolanos said there was insufficient "clear and convincing evidence of malice or oppression" by Monsanto to justify the jury's damage awards.

In August, a jury at San Francisco's Superior Court of California awarded Johnson $289 million in damages — $39 million for his losses and $250 million for Monsanto's negligence. About a month later, Monsanto asked Bolanos to either throw out the verdict, reduce the award or set a new trial. Bolanos is considering reducing the $33 million in so-called "pain-and-suffering" damages to $9 million.

Bolanos ordered lawyers from both sides to file written arguments Oct. 12, after which the judge would make a decision.

In an Oct. 11 analyst note, Michael Leuchten of UBS said the result of the pending California case would not remove further lawsuits from being brought against Bayer. He also added that the market has overreacted to the case and has priced in too negative a scenario for Bayer.

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The California trial was the first in thousands of cases alleging that Roundup could lead to cancer. Bayer continues to defend that Monsanto's best-selling herbicide is not carcinogenic.

Bayer's shares were up 4.19% to €78.17 as of 12:12 p.m. Frankfurt time on Oct. 11.