Does Roundup produced by Monsanto cause cancer? The case of a groundskeeper who claims he developed a terminal cancer as a result of using the herbicide snatched a legal victory at the end of a trial that started on July 9 in San Francisco Superior Court; the first of what could be a flood of cases accusing the agricultural giant Monsanto of distributing deadly poison and trying to cover it up.
Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, 46, a former groundskeeper for the Benicia Unified School District, accused Monsanto of hiding evidence over the past two decades that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, can cause cancer. Monsanto has steadfastly defended its product, pointing to a slew of studies that find no evidence of danger in glyphosate, and noting that the Environmental Protection Agency has never restricted Roundup.
Johnson, a husband and father of three, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma four years ago. In 2016, he filed a lawsuit claiming that the cause was his exposure to glyphosate. About 4’000 people across the U.S — and many more around the world — claim that Roundup made them sick and also expect to take their cases against Monsanto to trial.
After years of accusation, on Friday, a San Francisco jury ordered agribusiness giant Monsanto to pay $289 million to Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, saying the company’s popular Roundup weed killer contributed to his disease.
The lawsuit brought by Dewayne Johnson was the first to go to trial among hundreds filed in state and federal courts saying Roundup causes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which Monsanto continues to deny.
Jurors in California Superior Court agreed the product contributed to Johnson’s cancer and the company should have provided a label warning of the potential health hazard. The trial into Monsanto’s accountability has gone on for eight weeks and the jury deliberated for two and a half days before issuing their verdict.
“This jury found Monsanto acted with malice and oppression because they knew what they were doing was wrong and doing it with a reckless disregard for human life,” said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a member of Johnson’s legal team. “This should send a strong message to the boardroom of Monsanto.”
Johnson’s attorneys sought and won $39 million in compensatory damages and $250 million of the $373 million they wanted in punitive damages.
Monsanto has denied a link between the active ingredient in Roundup — glyphosate — and cancer, saying hundreds of studies have established that glyphosate is safe.
Johnson used Roundup and a similar product, Ranger Pro, as a pest control manager at a San Francisco Bay Area school district, his lawyers said. He sprayed large quantities from a 50-gallon tank attached to a truck, and during gusty winds, the product would cover his face, said Brent Wisner, one of his attorneys.
Once, when a hose broke, the weed killer soaked his entire body.
Johnson read the label and even contacted the company after developing a rash but was never warned it could cause cancer, Wisner said. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014 at age 42.
“The simple fact is he is going to die. It’s just a matter of time,” Wisner told the jury in his opening statement last month.
But George Lombardi, an attorney for Monsanto, said non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma takes years to develop, so Johnson’s cancer must have started well before he began working at the school district.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says Roundup‘s active ingredient is safe for people when used in accordance with label directions.
However, the France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, classified it as a “probable human carcinogen” in 2015. And California added glyphosate to its list of chemicals known to cause cancer.
“I think it’s exactly like the tobacco trials. Monsanto, for 40 years, has been taking the playbook from the tobacco industry, ghostwriting science, buying science, using all the different PR strategies and the legal strategies to confuse the science to blur the science and I’m so glad that this jury held them accountable,” said Johnson’s attorney, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Dewayne ”Lee” Johnson, who was suing Monsanto, will now be able to access groundbreaking treatments for his terminal cancer, the press reports.