California Jury Awards Groundskeeper $289 Million in Roundup Cancer Case

On Friday, August 10, a San Francisco jury ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million to Dewayne Johnson, who developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after using Roundup in his job as school groundskeeper. After two days of deliberations, the jury found that Monsanto, a unit of the pharmaceutical company Bayer AG following a $62.5 billion acquisition, was at least partly liable for causing Johnson’s terminal cancer.

Johnson’s case, claiming that glyphosate, the principal chemical in Monsanto’s Roundup, caused his cancer, was one of the first to go to trial. The California courts granted Johnson an expedited trial as doctors said that Johnson did not have long to live.

Over several weeks of testimony, the San Francisco jury heard opposing arguments about whether glyphosate was the likely cause of Johnson’s cancer. Though many people who have used Roundup have developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, scientific evidence has not been conclusive. In 2015, the World Health Organization found that glyphosate was a “probably carcinogenic to humans.” In 2017, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) review of glyphosate found that it was not likely to cause cancer. But internal documents have shown that the EPA has relied on Monsanto’s guidance in making label changes for their herbicides, which may complicate the EPA’s findings.

In closing arguments, Dewayne Johnson’s lawyer argued that Monsanto had hidden evidence of the risk that Roundup could cause cancer, attacked an international agency that warned about the potential dangers of Roundup, and had refused identify the weed killer as having the potential to increase the risk of cancer.

The jury found that Monsanto had failed to warn Johnson of the potential risks in using Roundup and awarded $39 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages.

The victory over Monsanto will likely affect the thousands of other plaintiffs claiming that Roundup gave them non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or other cancers. Cases against Monsanto are pending around the country in various state courts. The award in Johnson’s suit may put additional pressure on Monsanto to settle the other lawsuits against them.

Monsanto has already vowed to appeal.

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