Monsanto ordered to pay $289.2 million in landmark Roundup lawsuit verdict

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Darrell Hoemann/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

A Monsanto facility in Stonington, Ill., on May 19, 2015.

A San Francisco court has ordered the agribusiness company Monsanto to pay nearly $290 million in damages to a California man who alleges his cancer was caused by Roundup, the company’s most widely used herbicide.

The verdict was issued Friday.

Dewayne “Lee” Johnson filed the lawsuit against St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. in January 2016, "alleging exposure to the Roundup herbicide he sprayed while working as a groundskeeper for the Benicia Unified School District caused him to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma."

The case went to trial in June.

Roundup’s key ingredient is glyphosate. The World Health Organization named glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic" in 2015. The move later drew criticism for allegedly excluding key information in its evaluation of the chemical.

Monsanto plans to appeal the decision, according to an emailed statement.

Said Scott Partridge, a vice president of Monsanto:
“We are sympathetic to Mr. Johnson and his family. (Friday)’s decision does not change the fact that more than 800 scientific studies and reviews – and conclusions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and regulatory authorities around the world – support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer, and did not cause Mr. Johnson’s cancer. We will appeal this decision and continue to vigorously defend this product, which has a 40-year history of safe use and continues to be a vital, effective, and safe tool for farmers and others.”

The company, which was bought by the multinational pharmaceutical company Bayer for more than $60 billion in June, is facing thousands of similar cases.

When contacted for comment on Saturday, a Bayer spokesperson said via email:
“While Bayer and Monsanto continue to operate independently, Bayer believes that the jury’s verdict is at odds with the weight of scientific evidence that the use of glyphosate is not associated with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Bayer is confident based on the strength of the science, the conclusions of regulators around the world and decades of experience that glyphosate is safe for use and does not cause cancer when used according to the label.”

In a press release issued Friday, Johnson's co-lead trial counsel Brent Wisner said the verdict was a result of newly-revealed, confidential company documents. (See documents here)

“We were finally able to show the jury the secret, internal Monsanto documents proving that Monsanto has known for decades that glyphosate and specifically Roundup could cause cancer. Despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to require labeling, we are proud that an independent jury followed the evidence and used its voice to send a message to Monsanto that its years of deception regarding Roundup is over and that they should put consumer safety first over profits.”

According to the release:

A San Francisco jury returned a verdict today in the case of a former groundskeeper with terminal cancer against Monsanto Company, ordering the agrochemical giant to pay $39.2 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages for failing to warn consumers that exposure to Roundup weed killer causes cancer.

Dewayne “Lee” Johnson filed the lawsuit (case no. CGC-16-550128) against St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. on Jan. 28, 2016, alleging exposure to the Roundup herbicide he sprayed while working as a groundskeeper for the Benicia Unified School District caused him to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

On June 18, 2018, his case was assigned to Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos for the Superior Court of San Francisco, California. Johnson’s case was the first of its kind to proceed to trial due to his terminal diagnosis.

After (eight) weeks of trial proceedings, the jury found unanimously that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup weed killer caused Mr. Johnson to develop NHL, and that Monsanto failed to warn of this severe health hazard. Importantly, the jury also found that Monsanto acted with malice, oppression or fraud and should be punished for its conduct.

Other news coverage:

Monsanto ordered to pay $289m as jury rules weedkiller caused man's cancer | The Guardian

Jurors give $289 million to a man they say got cancer from Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller | CNN

This story has been updated to include comments from Bayer and Monsanto. 

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