The manufacturers of consumer products have a duty to perform reasonable tests to ensure that their product is safe for use. In the event that a product may be dangerous to use, manufacturers are required to adequately warn consumers of the dangers that are known. manufacturers can be held accountable for significant damages in the event that their products harm people. If manufacturers fail to disclose known risks of a product, they could be required to pay damages well in excess of the actual harm caused to a victim by their product. The California Court of Appeals recently affirmed a substantial verdict against Monsanto, the manufacturer of the popular weed control product Roundup, which contained a significant amount of punitive damages against the company.
The plaintiffs in the recently decided case are a married couple who used roundup on their properties from the 1980s until 2015. Based on the information contained in the packaging and from advertisements, the plaintiffs did not think that Roundup was a dangerous chemical, and they used it liberally on their properties without gloves or other protective equipment. After using the product for years, both plaintiffs developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer that has been linked to the use of Roundup and other herbicides. The plaintiffs sued the defendant in state court, alleging that the product was dangerous and defective and that the defendant failed to warn consumers about dangers that they knew of.
During a six-week trial, witnesses testified that the defendant had access to information that their product caused cancer, and failed to warn consumers of the risk. Additionally, witnesses testified that the use of gloves and other safety equipment could significantly reduce the risk of cancer, however, the product label did not advise consumers to use protective equipment. Witnesses also testified that the plaintiffs’ use of Roundup was a substantial contributing factor in the development of their cancer. The jury ultimately ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on all claims, initially awarding tens of millions of compensatory damages and $2 billion in punitive damages against the company. The punitive damages were reduced by the court, and the final verdict totaled approximately $86 million.