A California jury has awarded $289 million in damages to Dwayne Johnson, a 46-year-old former groundskeeper in a San Francisco school district, who claims that prolonged exposure to Monsanto-manufactured weed-killer Roundup during his employment days caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The jury at the Superior Court of California in San Francisco deliberated for three days before arriving at the uncontested decision to award the dying father of three a whopping $250 million in punitive damages, plus $39 million in compensatory damages.
The landmark verdict has the potential to set a huge precedent for the hundreds of cancer-related claims against the agribusiness giant.
“A unanimous jury in San Francisco has told Monsanto: ‘Enough. You did something wrong and now you have to pay,’” Johnson’s lead trial lawyer Brent Wisner said in a statement, following the verdict.
“There are 4,000 other cases filed around the United States and there are countless thousand other people out there who are suffering from cancer because Monsanto didn’t give them a choice … We now have a way forward,” added Wisner.
“I’m glad to be here to be able to help in a cause that’s way bigger than me,” Dewayne Johnson said at the post-verdict news conference.
Over the course of the trial, Johnson’s lawyers argued with the support of documents that Johnson’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma was indeed caused by his repeated exposure to Roundup.
With eighty percent of his body covered in lesions, Johnson told the court about his pain and suffering.
“I’ve been going through a lot of pain,” Johnson, testified. “It really takes everything out of you … I’m not getting any better.”
Johnson’s lawsuit was the first to reach trial because the Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) in California has provisions for expediting the trial of a dying plaintiff, subject, of course, to the court’s scrutiny and verification of medical records filed in support of an early hearing.
Clause 36(d) of California’s CODE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE (CCP) says:
“In its discretion, the court may also grant a motion for preference that is accompanied by clear and convincing medical documentation that concludes that one of the parties suffers from an illness or condition raising substantial medical doubt of survival of that party beyond six months, and that satisfies the court that the interests of justice will be served by granting the preference.”
One of the demands of Johnson’s job involved the repeated handling of the popular weed-killer, exposing him to the product’s active ingredient glyphosate, which according to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
According to Johnson’s submission, he even had a couple of accidents that exposed him to excessive amounts of the Monsanto product.
Once, while spraying the weed-killer from a 50-gallon truck-towed tanker, he got completely drenched with Roundup when the tanker’s hose broke.
After that 2012 mishap, Johnson started developing rashes and lesions on his body and in 2014 he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“The jury found Monsanto acted with malice and oppression because they knew what they were doing was wrong and doing it with reckless disregard for human life,” said another Johnson attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr., reports Associated Press.
“We were finally able to show the jury the secret, internal Monsanto documents proving that Monsanto has known for decades that … Roundup could cause cancer,” Wisner said.
According to him, the ruling sends a clear “message to Monsanto that its years of deception regarding Roundup is over and that they should put consumer safety first over profits,” added the lead lawyer for Johnson.
Fortunately, for the plaintiff, the state’s Superior Court jury was collectively convinced that Roundup was indeed a factor in Johnson’s sufferings; it clearly reflects in the quantum of damages awarded.
Unhappy with the ruling, Monsanto Vice President Scott Partridge said in a statement that his company would appeal the verdict as they were firm in their belief that Roundup was a safe product, which the company had been selling for more than four decades.
“We are sympathetic to Mr. Johnson and his family,” Partridge said. “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.”
Anti- glyphosate crusaders, who have long demanded the ban of glyphosate, were happy with the jury’s call, as was evident in some of their statements.
Midwest Organizing Director for Pesticide Action Network Linda Wells called the verdict a “turning tide” and said that it was “time to get carcinogenic pesticides off the market, and fight for the protective regulations we all deserve.”
Calling Roundup “the OxyContin of pesticides,” Environmental Working Group president Ken Cook said that “the addiction and damage they caused have come home to roost.”
He went on to add that although the verdict wouldn’t save Johnson’s life, it would definitely send “a strong message to a renegade company.”
Government estimates suggest that farmers across the country have so far used some 1.8 million tons of glyphosate since its introduction in the mid-seventies, most of which was used on millions of acres of corn and soy in the Midwest.
The California Department of Pesticide Regulation says that the chemical is the state’s most widely used herbicide.
As far as Monsanto is concerned, it has a long and arduous battle ahead, not only in terms of the appeal it plans against the $289 million verdict but hundreds of similar lawsuits against it, also.
Add to that the legal battle the company has to face over the demand for a cancer warning label on Roundup intended for California, and you suddenly start feeling sorry for Monsanto, which environmental activists derogatorily refer to as “Monsatan.”