California Appellate Court Denies Recovery for Shortened Life Expectancy
An opinion filed on July 20, 2020, in the California Court of Appeals, First Appellate District, concluded that a plaintiff cannot recover damages for shortened life expectancy. Johnson v. Monsanto Company (2020) Cal.App. LEXUS 675, is an appeal of one of the first cases to result in a jury verdict against Monsanto Company for their “Roundup products”. Plaintiff was a grounds manager for a school district and a heavy user of Roundup products. He sued Monsanto after contracting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A jury awarded him compensatory damages of $39.3 million dollars and punitive damages of $250 million. The appellate court ultimately reduced the compensatory damages to approximately $10 million dollars and the punitive damages also to approximately $10 million dollars.
The compensatory damages awarded by the jury included $33 million dollars for future non-economic losses for pain and suffering. Plaintiff’s counsel argued that his client’s life expectancy was between 2 and 33 years and that he should be awarded $1 million dollars for each potential year of life, equating to $33 million dollars.
The court recognized that compensation for pain and suffering is recompense for pain and suffering actually experienced, and to the extent a premature death terminates the pain and suffering, compensation should be terminated.
Plaintiff’s counsel contended that his client was entitled to damages for a shortened life expectancy. The court concluded the standard jury instruction did not authorize such damages which have never been recognized as recoverable in California. By limiting future noneconomic damages to those the plaintiff was reasonably certain to suffer, the California jury instruction disallowed damages for those years beyond plaintiff’s life expectancy at the time of trial.
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