How Syllogisms Affect Tort Case Verdicts and Appeals

February 13, 2019

Last year a San Francisco jury awarded a $289 million judgment against Monsanto, the manufacturer of the popular weed killer Roundup. The plaintiff, a groundskeeper who is dying of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, had sued Monsanto claiming the active ingredient in Roundup (glyphosate) was the carcinogen that caused his terminal illness. In 2015, the World Health Organization's agency on cancer research classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.

The Superior Court judge that heard Monsanto's request for a new trial, in regards to the $250 million awarded for punitive damages, offered the plaintiff two options. Either submit to a new trial on the punitive damages or accept the original award of $39 million in compensatory damages and a reduced award of $39 million for punitive damages. Although internal documents suggest Monsanto might have known that Roundup contained a dangerous substance, tort law requires the plaintiff to prove actual "cause and effect".

Nonetheless, the plaintiff must prove the defendant's actions, or lack of action, was the cause of his or her harm. When a mechanical part breaks on a vehicle and causes severe injuries, it is easy for the defendant's legal team to prove the failed part was the culprit. On the other hand, proving the exact cause of lung cancer depends on analytic epidemiology. Syllogisms, which are the logical arguments applied to deductive reasoning to arrive at a conclusion, are applied to what is assumed true when documenting cause and effect. 

The Roundup case follows in the footsteps of tort settlements for the Johnson & Johnson baby powder lawsuit that awarded 22 women and their families one of the largest combined compensations in history at $4.7 billion, after concluding the risk of asbestos contamination in the baby powder was the most probable cause of personal injury. It should be noted that the verdicts in both cases could ultimately be overturned or damages reduced by hearings in the appellate courts or a judgment that the awards are overvalued.

Documenting and presenting tort claims for damages related to dangerous or defective products can be tricky, especially when medical epidemiology and syllogisms are applied. If you or a loved one were injured by a dangerous or defective product, contact a personal injury lawyer at Schackow & Mercadante for a thorough review of your case.

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