By Jacob Bunge
Bayer AG could win a new trial to defend its Roundup weed killer.
A California judge on Wednesday issued a tentative ruling for a new trial on the $250 million in punitive damages awarded to a groundskeeper, who sought to hold the Roundup maker liable for his non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
If finalized, Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos's ruling would grant a motion by Bayer arguing that sum wasn't justified and that the evidence didn't prove the company intended to harm the plaintiff. It isn't clear when the judge may finalize the ruling, issued ahead of a court hearing Wednesday.
The ruling calls into question the bulk of the $289 million judgment, the first in thousands of cases alleging that glyphosate, the main ingredient in Bayer's Roundup herbicide, causes cancer.
The jury verdict rocked Bayer weeks after the German company completed its takeover of Monsanto, the U.S. seed and pesticide giant that manufactures Roundup and crop seeds engineered to withstand the spray. Bayer's stock has fallen about 20% since the verdict, as investors priced in the potential for hundreds of millions of dollars more in court judgments ahead.
The plaintiff, Dewayne Johnson, is likely to appeal the ruling if it is finalized. Representatives for Bayer and Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman PC, the law firm representing Mr. Johnson, had no immediate comment.
Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world, prized for its ability to knock down scores of different weeds. Monsanto pioneered the genetic engineering of corn, soybeans and other crops to survive the chemical, helping simplify farming and turning the "Roundup Ready" franchise into a multibillion-dollar brand. Most of the nearly $11 billion in crop seeds sold annually by Monsanto are genetically modified to resist glyphosate.
The chemical's safety came under global scrutiny after the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a unit of the World Health Organization, in 2015 classified glyphosate as likely having the potential to cause cancer. Monsanto and other agricultural groups pushed back, but the classification prompted a wave of lawsuits and regulatory challenges in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.
Mr. Johnson's attorneys, Judge Bolanos wrote in the order, didn't provide "clear and convincing evidence of malice or oppression by Monsanto."
A Bayer spokesman said the judge is considering its motions for a new trial on the liability verdicts and reduction of the $39 million in compensatory damages the jury awarded. Bayer "continues to believe that the evidence at trial does not support the verdict and the damage awards, " he said.
A Baum Hedlund spokeswoman declined to comment.
--Sara Randazzo contributed to this article.
Write to Jacob Bunge at email@example.com