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A string of victories by plaintiffs in the several Monsanto Roundup cancer cases may be paving the way for workers’ compensation subrogation, should those cases be filed by California farm workers as industrial injuries. A new published opinion in California continues to be favoring plaintiffs.

Alberta Pilliod and her husband, Alva Pilliod, each developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after years of spraying Roundup herbicide on their property.

The Pilliods sued Monsanto Company, the manufacturer of Roundup, for damages based on claims of design defect and failure to warn. After a six-week trial, the jury found for the Pilliods, awarded Alberta over $37 million in compensatory damages, awarded Alva over $18 million in compensatory damages, and awarded each of them $1 billion in punitive damages.

The trial court conditionally denied Monsanto’s motion for new trial, contingent on the Pilliods’ acceptance of substantially reduced compensatory and punitive damages, resulting in a total award to Alberta of about $56 million (including about $45 million in punitive damages) and a total award to Alva of about $31 million (including about $25 million in punitive damages). The Pilliods accepted the reductions.

On appeal, Monsanto argues that the Pilliods’ claims are preempted by federal law, the jury’s liability findings are not supported by substantial evidence, the jury was improperly instructed as to the Pilliods’ design defect claim, the jury’s causation findings are legally and factually flawed, the trial court abused its discretion by admitting certain evidence, and the verdict is the product of attorney misconduct.

Monsanto also argues that the punitive damages awards should be stricken or further reduced because they are unsupported by evidence and constitutionally excessive.

In their cross- appeal, the Pilliods argue that the trial court erred in reducing the jury’s awards for compensatory and punitive damages.

The trial court was affirmed in the published option of Pilliod v Monsanto.

The 84 page decision carefully reviewed the scientific evidence, and the history of the plaintiffs’ use of the evidence, and found that it supported the final result.

Monsanto argued that the Pilliods’ claims, which are brought under California common law, are preempted by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA, 7 U.S.C. § 136 et seq.), which governs the use, sale, and labeling of pesticides, including herbicides. On that basis, Monsanto contends that the Court of Appeal should reverse the judgment and direct the trial court to enter judgment for Monsanto.

The Court was not persuaded by their argument. The supremacy clause of the United States Constitution “makes federal law paramount, and vests Congress with the power to preempt state law.” However, California common law does not impose any requirements that are different from or in addition to the requirements of FIFRA.