Last year, a California jury ordered Bayer to pay $80 Million at the close of the second Roundup injury lawsuit trial. The award included $5 Million in compensatory damages to cover economic losses, pain and suffering, and emotional distress. The vast majority of the award – $75 Million – was in punitive damages. Bayer immediately appealed the multi-million dollar verdict. Months later, a federal judge has indicated that he’ll reduce, but not eliminate, the award.

When Are Punitive Damages Awarded?

In California, punitive damages are reserved for the most serious personal injury cases. A jury can only award punitive damages if it believes that a defendant acted with “malice, oppression, or fraud.” What exactly does this mean?

In other words, the defendant’s conduct must have gone above and beyond mere negligence. There must have been some intentionally deceitful or harmful behavior. At the very least, a defendant must have consciously disregarded the risks of their actions.

Punitive Awards Must Be Reasonable, Proportionate

To date, three separate juries have agreed that Monsanto – now Bayer – should be punished for the harm Roundup has caused. All three have imposed hefty punitive awards. The punitive award in Hardeman’s case was 15 times greater than his compensatory award.

While there is no cap on punitive damages in California, the amount must be “reasonable and proportionate to the amount of harm to the plaintiff and to the general damages recovered.” The Supreme Court has explained that “grossly excessive or arbitrary punishments” violate the Fourteenth Amendment.

Generally speaking, punitive damages can’t exceed four times the amount of a compensatory award. Anything higher must have some “special justification.” Under no circumstances can punitive damages be nine times greater than the total compensation awarded. These types of awards are only acceptable in “extraordinary cases.”

Judge Says Punitive Damages Are Excessive, But Acknowledges Bayer’s Misconduct

In considering Bayer’s appeal of the $80 Million verdict, a federal judge has indicated that he will reduce the punitive award to comply with the Supreme Court rules. At the same time, the judge has called Bayer’s conduct “reprehensible” and said that it’s clear that the company doesn’t “really [care] whether its products cause cancer.”

Hardeman’s attorney has argued that his case is, in fact, extraordinary. His counsel has urged the judge to keep a high damage award because it’s “necessary to send a message to the company.” Under the Supreme Court rules, an extraordinary case can only secure punitive awards nine times greater than total compensation. This means that the judge could still award Hardeman $45 Million in punitive damages.