Jury orders Monsanto to pay $289M in damages for cancer-causing herbicide

A San Francisco jury has found agricultural biotech company Monsanto liable for causing the cancer in a former school groundskeeper who used a popular weedkiller manufactured by the chemical giant.

Following three days of deliberations in a week-long trial, jurors ruled Friday Monsanto failed to warn Dewayne Johnson and fellow consumers of the risks associated with the weedkillers, Roundup and Ranger Pro.  Both products contain the chemical glyphosate, which attorneys contend is a cancer-causing agent.

First used in 1974 and today the most widely-used herbicide in the world, glyphosate is alternatively used as a pesticide and is the subject of intense debate over whether it disrupts the endocrine system or adversely affects the environment.

Johnson, 46, filed suit in 2016 after he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer he claims was caused by the weedkiller, which he applied as many as 30 times a year. Eighty percent of Mr. Johnson’s body is now covered in lesions.

During the course of the trial, Johnson offer testimony recounting years of exposure to the weedkiller, and described several incidents which left him saturated with the product.  In one instance, Johnson recalled a hose rupturing, leaving him soaked with the weedkiller.

Despite expert testimony provided by both plaintiffs and the defense, most of which conflicted over whether the weedkillers were cancer-causing agents, the a jury agreed with Johnson and awarded him $39 million in personal damage and an additional $250 million in punitive damages.  Johnson had asked for $412 million.

Attorneys for Mr. Johnson relied heavily on the chemical firm’s internal memos, which, they assert, indicated executives were aware of the harmful effects of glyphosate.

Vowing Monsanto would contest the verdict, Monsanto Vice President Scott Partridge released a statement which read:

“Today’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.”

The first case over glyphosate to reach a courtroom, Monsanto faces over 4,000 additional lawsuits related to its weedkiller products across the U.S.

 

[The Guardian] [CNN] [Reuters] [Fortune] [Photo courtesy Josh Edelson/Pool via AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

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