Monsanto must pay couple $2bn in largest verdict yet over cancer claims

In a third major legal blow to Bayer-owned Monsanto and its weedkiller Roundup, a jury in California has ordered the chemicals giant to pay more than $2 billion in damages to a couple that sued on grounds the product caused their cancer, lawyers said.

"We have great sympathy for Mr. and Mrs. Pilliod, but the evidence in this case was clear that both have long histories of illness known to be substantial risk factors for non-Hodkin's lymphoma (NHL)", the company said. Johnson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2014 and regularly spraying a high-concentration version of Roundup known as Ranger Pro as part of his job from 2012 to 2016.

A federal jury in San Francisco previously ordered the weed killer maker to pay a man $115 million and a San Francisco jury in August awarded $416 million to a former greenskeeper, though a judge later reduced it.

The German chemicals giant faces more than 13,400 United States lawsuits over the herbicide's alleged cancer risk. It also seems to fly in the face of a 2016 California Supreme Court ruling that found the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages in successful lawsuits should nearly never exceed nine to one, the AP added.

The jury set the total punitive damages at $2 billion and added $55 million in compensatory pay, concluding that Roundup - based on herbicide glyphosate - had been defectively designed, and that the company failed to warn of the herbicide's alleged cancer risk.

There have also been concerns about whether Monsanto has had undue influence over regulators, with internal company documents playing a key role in Monday's verdict, according to the plaintiffs' lawyers.

Bayer said it was "disappointed" in the decision and would appeal. Bayer said it plans to appeal Monday's verdict.

A 2017 Reuters investigation found that the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer had dismissed and edited out "non-carcinogenic" findings that were at odds with its final conclusion that the chemical probably causes cancer. The verdict comes about a month and a half after a jury awarded $80 million to another person, Edwin Hardeman, who has cancer. They were also awarded $55 million in compensatory damages. The court didn't propose a ratio it felt correct, but said punitive damages should nearly never exceed nine times actual damages, it said.

Bayer will appeal, just as it has with the earlier verdicts. The punitive damages awarded Monday are 36 times the actual damages.

The German agro-chemicals and drugs giant finalised its massive acquisition of Monsanto previous year, but the blockbuster purchase has turned out to be plagued with other massive costs.

Chairman Werner Wenning told shareholders at Bayer's annual general meeting in Bonn last month that company leaders "very much regret" falls in its share price.

Bayer apologised on Sunday after it emerged that Monsanto had a PR agency collate lists of French politicians, scientists and journalists, with their views on pesticides and GM crops. The verdict was announced after the trading session closed.