On August 10, 2018, a San Francisco jury awarded $289 million to a man who claims that he contracted terminal cancer from his exposure to Roundup, a weed killer manufactured by agricultural giant Monsanto. The man’s victory in the first Roundup cancer lawsuit to come to trial could set a precedent for thousands of other plaintiffs alleging that the product gave them non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
First Roundup Cancer Lawsuit to Go to Trial
According to his attorneys, the plaintiff, 46-year-old Dewayne Johnson, applied Roundup twenty to thirty times a year while working as a groundskeeper for a school district near San Francisco. In his testimony at the trial, he said he had two accidents in which he was soaked with Roundup, the first in 2012.
In 2014, Johnson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He has lesions on as much as 80 percent of his body and is often too crippled to speak. His wife now works two forty-hour-per-week jobs to support their family, which includes two sons.
After three days of deliberations following his trial at the Superior Court of California in San Francisco, the jury awarded Johnson $250 million in punitive damages and $39 million in compensatory damages.
Johnson’s case was the first Roundup cancer lawsuit to go to trial because his doctors said he was near death. California allows dying plaintiffs to be granted expedited trials.
Monsanto Plans to Appeal
Monsanto issued a statement following the verdict saying that the company stands by the studies that suggest Roundup does not cause cancer.
Monsanto Vice President Scott Partridge said, “We will appeal this decision and continue to vigorously defend this product, which has a forty-year history of safe use and continues to be a vital, effective, and safe tool for farmers and others.”
Johnson’s attorney, Timothy Litzenburg, said that an appeal would be costly for Monsanto, which would have to pay interest on the damages while the case is being appealed – an amount equal to roughly $25 million a year.
Research on Roundup and Cancer
In March 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a report that the key ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
As the report states, “For the herbicide glyphosate, there was limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”
Monsanto has argued that the IARC report is greatly outnumbered by studies showing that glyphosate is safe.
“More than 800 scientific studies, the US EPA, the National Institutes of Health, and regulators around the world have concluded that glyphosate is safe for use and does not cause cancer,” said Partridge.
But Johnson’s attorney argued that the interaction between glyphosate and other ingredients in Roundup causes a “synergistic effect” that makes Roundup more carcinogenic.
Experts note that it is medically impossible to prove that Roundup caused Johnson’s illness, but it is also impossible for Monsanto to prove Roundup did not cause it. According to the American Cancer Society, most cases of lymphoma are idiopathic, which means that the cause is unknown.
Johnson’s legal team, however, was not required to prove that Roundup was the sole cause of his cancer. They only had to prove that Roundup was a “substantial contributing factor” to his illness.
“Under California law, that means Mr. Johnson’s cancer would not have occurred but for his exposure to Roundup,” said a Monsanto spokesperson.
Litzenburg compared the common perception about the potential link between Roundup and non-Hodgkin lymphoma to the public’s awareness of tobacco as a contributing factor to lung cancer.
“You can’t take a lung cancer tumor and run a test that proves that tobacco caused that cancer,” Litzenberg said. “You’re seeing the same thing here. I think we’re in the beginning of that era of this dawning on us as a country – as a public – the connection between these two things.”
Johnson’s may have been the first Roundup cancer lawsuit to come to trial, but it is likely far from the last. According to Listenberg, he and other attorneys have approximately 4,000 similar Roundup cancer lawsuits awaiting trial in various state courts, while another 400 cases have been filed in federal multidistrict litigation (MDL).
Roundup Cancer Litigation
If you or someone you love is suffering from cancer that may have been caused by exposure to Roundup, you may find that you might benefit from the guidance of an experienced lawyer, such as the Chicago personal injury lawyers at GWC Injury Lawyers.
With over $2 billion recovered for our clients and offices throughout the state, GWC is Illinois’ largest Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation law firm.