GUILTY ON ALL COUNTS: Monsanto ordered to pay $289 million after jury agrees weedkiller Roundup caused man's cancer
In a historic win of the common man against a powerful corporate, chemical giant Monsanto was ordered to pay $289m damages to a man who claimed he got cancer after being directly exposed to the company's glyphosate-based weedkillers, including the widely used Roundup.
Dewayne Johnson, 46, was a pest control manager at a San Francisco area school district in 2012. A large part of his job was to spray these Roundup and a similar product in bulk 30 times a year. He sprayed large quantities from a 50-gallon tank, and when it was windy, the product would cover his face, according to Newser.
Once, when a hose broke, the product soaked his entire body. Johnson read the label and contacted Monsanto after developing a rash but was never warned it could cause cancer. Johnson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma — a cancer that affects white blood cells — in 2014 when he was 42.
The jury at San Francisco's Superior Court of California deliberated for three days before agreeing that the product contributed to Johnson's cancer. They also agreed that the company should have provided a label warning Johnson and other consumers of the potential health hazard posed by its weed killers, Reuters reported.
The jury ruled that the company was responsible for “negligent failure” and knew or should have known that its product was “dangerous”. The jury further found that Monsanto “acted with malice or oppression”.
Johnson’s lawyers argued over the course of a month-long trial in San Francisco that Monsanto had for years targeted academics who spoke up about possible health risks of the herbicide product.
The case of Johnson was the first lawsuit alleging glyphosate causes cancer to go on trial. Johnson's case, filed in 2016, was fast-tracked for trial due to the severity of his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Monsanto faces more than 5,000 similar lawsuits across the United States.
Following the judgment, a clearly emotional Johson was seen smiling and hugging his lawyers. "The cause is way bigger than me. Hopefully this thing will get the attention it needs," Johnson said.
Johnson wept openly, as did some jurors, when he met with the panel later.
Roundup is registered in 130 countries and approved for use on more than 100 crops. But in 2015, findings by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the UN World Health Organization, classified Roundup's main ingredient glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, triggering a wave of legal and legislative challenges. Johnson’s attorneys used these findings to back their arguments.
For Johnson, the verdict means he will be able to afford some cutting-edge treatment. When the compensation is released, he hopes to use it to spend more time with his wife Araceli and their two sons. He may also use it to fund a bone marrow transplant.
Monsanto, meanwhile, denies that glyphosate causes cancer and says it intends to appeal against the ruling. "The jury got it wrong," vice-president Scott Partridge said outside the courthouse in San Francisco.
Partridge later said in a statement that the company was "sympathetic to Mr. Johnson and his family," but insisted that the "decision does not change the fact that more than 800 scientific studies and reviews support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer, and did not cause Mr Johnson's cancer."
The implications of landmark verdict will be felt far beyond Monsanto's headquarters in Missouri considering glyphosate is the world's most common weedkiller.
Robert F Kennedy Jr, a lawyer representing Johnson in the case, declared Monsanto 'guilty on all counts' on Twitter.
The Organic Consumers Association (OCA), an advocacy group and longtime critic of Monsanto, also celebrated the verdict. "This verdict proves that when ordinary citizens, in this case a jury of 12, hear the facts about Monsanto's products, and the lengths to which this company has gone to buy off scientists, deceive the public and influence government regulatory agencies, there is no confusion," said Ronnie Cummins, OCA's international director. "This is a company that has always put profits ahead of public safety, and today, Monsanto has finally been held accountable."