Jurors in San Francisco have awarded $289 million in damages to a former school groundskeeper who alleged that Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer caused his terminal cancer. According to a CNN news report, 46-year-old Dewayne Johnson’s victory could set a huge precedent for thousands of other cases, which claim that Monsanto’s popular herbicide causes non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Johnson’s case was the first to go to trial because doctors said he was so close to death. In California, dying plaintiffs can be granted expedited trials.
More than 800 patients have lawsuits pending against Monsanto claiming that Roundup caused their cancer. Since last year, hundreds more plaintiffs including cancer patients, their spouses or estates have also sued the multinational corporation making similar claims. The jury in San Francisco deliberated for three days before awarding Johnson $250 million in punitive damages and about $39 million in compensatory damages. Monsanto continues to maintain that Roundup does not cause cancer.
Victory Sets Precedent for Other Cases
In his lawsuit, Johnson said he applied Roundup weed killer 20 to 30 times per year in the course of his job at a school district near San Francisco. He had two accidents in which he was soaked with the product. The first happened in 2012 and two years later, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Lesions cover 80 percent of his body.
Roundup contains glyphosate, which the World Health Organization has deemed “probably carcinogenic to humans.” But, Monsanto has long maintained that their product does not cause cancer and that the WHO’s report is outnumbered by studies that show glyphosate is safe. What was interesting about Johnson’s case is that while it was not possible to prove Roundup caused the terminal cancer, it was also impossible for Monsanto to prove Roundup did not cause Johnson’s cancer.
Justice for Victims
The burden of proof was on Johnson, the plaintiff. His attorneys were successful in proving that Roundup was a “substantial contributing factor” to his illness. There are now about 4,000 similar cases against Monsanto awaiting trial in various state courts. Another 400 cases have been filed in federal multidistrict litigation of MDL, which is similar to a class action lawsuit as it consolidates pre-trial proceedings for the sake of speed and efficiency. However, unlike a class action, each case in an MDL gets its own trial and separate outcome.
As California product defect lawyers, we are relieved that this plaintiff who is terminally ill got his day in court and that he will be able to live the rest of his life with his family in peace, knowing that the corporation that caused his condition has been held accountable. We wish the same for other victims and families that have lost loved ones to this toxic product.