Last Friday, a jury in San Francisco ordered Monsanto, an agribusiness giant, to pay almost $300 million to a man that formerly worked as a school groundskeeper, Dewayne Johnson, who is now dying of cancer. Johnson claimed Roundup week killer, one of Monsanto’s popular products, contributed to his cancer diagnosis.
Johnson’s lawsuit is just the first among thousands of cases alleging that Roundup weed killer caused cancer. Hazardous chemical cases, filed against Monsanto in federal and state courts, claim the weed killing agent contributed to their disease, although Monsanto denies any connection.
Johnson stated he hopes his verdict will assist other plaintiffs with their claims.
During a press conference after the verdict, Johnson stated that meaning behind the case is way more important “than me” and that he hopes the issue “gets the attention” it needs.
Johnson chose not to respond to reporters’ questions.
California superior court jurors agreed that Roundup played a part in causing Johnson’s cancer. They stated Monsanto should have labeled Roundup with a warning about its potential health hazards. Johnson’s attorneys were seeking $39 million in compensatory damages and $373 million in punitive damages. He won all of the compensatory damages he sought and received $250 million of the punitive damages sought.
As stated by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., part of Johnson’s legal team, “Monsanto acted with malice and oppression” since they knew they were acting with recklessness and “disregard for human life”. Kennedy Jr. hopes this verdict will send a clear message to Monsanto.
Monsanto adamantly denies a link between glyphosate, Roundup’s active ingredient, and cancer, citing hundreds of studies that establish the safety of the weed killer.
The spokesman for Monsanto, Scott Partridge, said the company will appeal the verdict. Partridge states two government agencies, as well as scientific studies, have concluded that the weed killer is not responsible for causing cancer.
Partridge stated the company is “sympathetic to Mr. Johnson and his family”, but will continue to “appeal this decision” and “defend this product” and its decades-long history of effectiveness and safety.
As a San Francisco Bay Area pest control manager for the school district, Johnson used Roundup and Ranger Pro, a similar weed killing product. Using a 50-gallon tank built onto his truck, he sprayed significant quantities of weed killer. During windy days, the product would spray directly on his face at times, according to Brent Wisner, one of Johnson’s attorneys.
In one instance, a hose broke and the weed killer covered his entire body.
Upon developing a rash after the incident, Johnson studied the label and contacted Monsanto. However, Wisner noted that Johnson was never told it could cause cancer. At the age of 42, in 2014, Johnson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Wisner explained in his opening statements to the jury that, unfortunately, Johnson is “going to die” and that it’s “just a matter of time”. Johnson’s team strongly believe Roundup weed killer caused cancer to develop in Johnson.
However, George Lombardi, a Monsanto attorney, said non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma develops over years. Therefore, he states that Johnson’s cancer would have had to already started before he ever began working for the school district.
As long as the product is used in accordance with the directions on the label, Roundup’s active ingredient is deemed safe for people by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Alternatively, glyphosate was categorized as a potential cause of cancer in humans by the France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2015. Also, California’s list of chemicals known to contribute to cancer now includes glyphosate.