US jury orders Monsanto to pay $290mn to cancer patient over weed killer

Updated August 12, 2018

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San Francisco: Dewayne Johnson reacts after the verdict was read out in the case against Monsanto.—AFP
San Francisco: Dewayne Johnson reacts after the verdict was read out in the case against Monsanto.—AFP

SAN FRANCISCO: A California jury ordered chemical giant Monsanto to pay nearly $290 million on Friday for failing to warn a dying groundskeeper that its weed killer Roundup might cause cancer.

Jurors unanimously fou­nd that Monsanto — which vowed to appeal — acted with “malice” and that its weed killers Rou­ndup and the professional grade version RangerPro contributed “substanti­a­l­­ly” to Dewayne Johnson’s terminal illness.

Following eight weeks of trial proceedings, the San Francisco jury ordered Monsanto to pay $250 million in punitive damages along with compensatory damages and other costs, bringing the total figure to nearly $290 million.

“The jury got it wrong,” the company’s vice president Scott Partridge told reporters outside the courthouse.

Johnson, a California groundskeeper diagnosed in 2014 with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a cancer that affects white blood cells — says he repeatedly used a professional form of Roundup while working at a school in Benicia, Cali­for­nia. “I want to thank everybody on the jury from the bottom of my heart,” John­son, 46, said during a press conference after the verdict.

“I am glad to be here; the cause is way bigger than me. Hopefully this thing will get the attention it needs.” Johnson, who appeared to be fighting back sobs while the verdict was read, wept openly, as did some jurors, when he met with the panel afterward.

The lawsuit built on 2015 findings by the Inter­nat­io­nal Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the UN World Health Organisa­t­ion, which classified Rou­n­dup’s main ingredient gly­phosate as a probable carcinogen, causing the state of California to follow suit.

“We are sympathetic to Mr Johnson and his family,” Monsanto said in a statement promising to appeal the ruling 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.”

But Johnson’s attorney Brent Wisner said the verdict “shows the evidence is overwhelming” that the product poses danger.

The lawsuit is the first to accuse the product of causing cancer, but observers say a Monsanto defeat likely opens the door to thousands of other claims against the company, which was recently acqu­ired by Germany’s Bayer.

Roundup is Monsanto’s leading product and glyphosate is reportedly the world’s most commonly used weed killer.

“The Johnson v Mon­san­­to verdict is a win for all of humanity and all life on earth,” said Zen Honey­cutt, founding executive director of non-profit group Moms Across America.

“The majority of our illnesses and losses to soil quality, water, wildlife and marine life are due to toxic chemicals, particularly Monsanto’s most widely used glyphosate herbicides like Roundup and Ranger Pro.”

Despite its denials of any links between its products and ill health effects, Monsanto has already suffered hits to its reputation in light of the controversy.

Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2018