SAN FRANCISCO • Agribusiness giant Monsanto has been ordered to pay some US$80 million (S$108 million) to an American retiree who blames his cancer on the firm's weedkiller Roundup, in a case that could influence the outcome of thousands more like it.
A San Francisco jury on Wednesday found the firm, which is owned by Bayer, had been "negligent by not using reasonable care" to warn of the risks of its product, ordering it to pay Mr Edwin Hardeman US$75 million in punitive damages, a little over US$5 million in compensation and US$200,000 for medical expenses.
It was the second stinging legal verdict for Monsanto in recent months after it lost a case to a California school groundskeeper suffering from terminal non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and was ordered to pay out tens of millions of dollars.
The jury also found that Roundup's design was defective and that the product lacked sufficient warnings of potential risk.
The same jury had previously found in an earlier part of the trial that a quarter-century exposure to Roundup, whose principal ingredient is the controversial chemical glyphosate, was a "substantial factor" in giving 70-year-old Mr Hardeman non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
The decision marks a major setback for Bayer, which purchased Monsanto in June last year for US$63 billion.
Bayer's share price fell in early trading in Frankfurt yesterday, extending losses as the company has seen its market value shrink by 46 per cent since it bought Monsanto.
The firm, which is facing thousands more similar lawsuits in the US, said it would appeal against the verdict even though it sympathised with Mr Hardeman's plight.
"We are disappointed with the jury's decision, but this verdict does not change the weight of over four decades of extensive science and the conclusions of regulators worldwide that support the safety of our glyphosate-based herbicides and that they are not carcinogenic," Bayer said in a statement.
"The verdict in this trial has no impact on future cases and trials, as each one has its own factual and legal circumstances."
Mr Hardeman's attorneys, who cheered and hugged their client as the verdict was announced, described the decision as historic and said it sends a clear message to Monsanto that it needs to change its business practices.
The case is one of more than 11,200 similar cases in the US alone involving Roundup.
Monsanto has consistently denied that the weedkiller causes cancer, and challenged findings by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organisation, which classified glyphosate as a "probable carcinogen" in 2015.