Monsanto ordered to pay $2B in Roundup cancer claim case: A look at other large product-liability awards

Monsanto Co. was ordered to pay a combined $2.055 billion earlier this week to a couple who claimed they got cancer after using its popular weed killer. This is the third courtroom loss for the agribusiness giant in California since August.

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Like Monsanto, a number of other companies were sued and plaintiffs were awarded a large monetary sum.

In July 2018, a jury awarded $4.14 billion in punitive damages and $550 million in compensatory damages to 22 women and their families.

The women said Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder contributed to their ovarian cancer. Johnson & Johnson attempted to have the verdict overturned but it was denied by a Missouri judge in December. The company denied a report by Reuters that stated the company knew for decades about the existence of trace amounts of asbestos in its baby powder.

Following the Johnson & Johnson case, an analysis by Bloomberg in January determined many of the top sums awarded by juries in product-liability cases did not ultimately come to fruition for a handful of reasons.

“Indeed, of the 25 largest U.S. jury awards, 23 were reversed, drastically cut or against defendants with few or no assets who couldn’t pay, according to data compiled by Bloomberg,” the outlet said.


The other two were reportedly going through the appeal process.

The chart below shows the top six product-liability sums given by juries in the U.S.

Of them, five were ultimately undone or significantly reduced, Bloomberg reported. The outlet listed the sixth – the 2018 Johnson & Johnson case – as “appeal pending.”

​The chart shows the top six product-liability sums given by juries in the U.S. (Bloomberg)

The largest product-liability sum on the list was Engle v. R.J. Reynolds in which jurors ordered the cigarette makers in 2000 to pay $144.5 billion in punitive damages to smokers who became sick or died after becoming addicted to cigarettes, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In 2003, a Florida appeals court tossed out the judgment, which reversed the 2000 verdict, according to The Wall Street Journal. The ruling stated the smokers’ issues with the company was “too diverse to be lumped into a single claim,” according to the outlet.

In 1999, a jury ordered General Motors to pay $4.9 billion in damages to six people who were burned after the gas tank of their 1979 Chevrolet Malibu exploded following a rear-end collision. At that time, the verdict was thought to be the “largest ever in a personal injury case,” the Los Angeles Times reported. The verdict was ultimately reduced to about $1.2 billion, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In 2014, drug makers Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. and Eli Lilly were ordered to pay $9 billion in damages over the Actos diabetes drug. However, a U.S. judge cut the award to $36.8 million, arguing the original damages award was “excessive.” Takeda was ordered to pay $27.6 million while Eli Lilly was told to pay $9.2 million, according to Reuters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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