A jury in California state court adjourned Wednesday without reaching a verdict in a case in which a school groundskeeper is seeking more than $400 million to compensate for developing cancer after being exposed to the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup.
A lawyer for Dewayne Johnson argued Tuesday that Roundup manufacturer Monsanto should have to pay him $412 million in compensatory and punitive damages, according to unofficial transcripts of the proceedings. Johnson has T-cell lymphoma and rashes that have caused skin to fall off his body, a condition his lawyers allege was caused after he was exposed to high levels of Roundup.
But like much in the trial, the lawyers for Johnson and Monsanto could not agree on the facts – when he was exposed, when his rashes began appearing, or even how much of his body was exposed to Roundup when the accidents occurred.
In fact, as the jury deliberated Wednesday afternoon in San Francisco Superior Court, they asked for the testimony of Chadi Nabhan, a doctor who testified that Johnson’s condition – mycosis fungoides, a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma – was caused by glyphosate exposure.
Monsanto lawyer George Lombardi attacked Nabhan’s testimony in closing arguments Tuesday, saying that “this idea that Dr. Nabhan, in his head, figured out that ... that Roundup causes mycosis fungoides ... is a product of this litigation and nothing else.”
All other experts on mycosis fungoides say there is no scientifically established cause for the disease, Lombardi said.
The lawyers also sparred about when Johnson had the two accidents that exposed him to Ranger Pro, the Roundup mixture he was using. Brent Wisner, the Baum Hedlund lawyer representing Johnson, said the incidents occurred in the summer of 2013 and in early 2014, with a “serious rash” appearing in May 2014.
But Lombardi said Johnson already had a rash when he had his accidents. One mishap involving a backpack sprayer occurred in 2015, “way after the rash.”
The lawyers attacked the other side’s experts on their interpretations of animal and human studies on glyphosate. Wisner used – and Lombardi criticized – the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s 2015 finding that glyphosate is probably a human carcinogen, while Lombardi cited – and Wisner criticized – the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2017 conclusion that it does not.
“Monsanto didn't really put up much of a defense,” Wisner said. “Their defense really, for what it's worth, consists of EPA, EPA, EPA. We all know that that is not enough. Because the EPA gets things wrong. And we know it got it wrong here.”
Lombardi, however, said that “IARC really is plaintiff's case. Without IARC, they have nothing. They rely completely on IARC to try to make you believe that Mr. Johnson's cancer was caused by glyphosate.”
Said Lombardi: “Forty years of this product on the market. Forty years of this product being regulated. Forty years of scientific studies ranging from human to animal to cell. The evidence is clear. The message from that evidence is clear, and it's that this cancer was not caused by Ranger Pro.”
In his closing argument, Wisner said the jurors could issue a verdict “that actually changes the world…. I told you all at the beginning of this trial that you were part of history, and you really are.”
But that comment and another one about how Monsanto was poised to start popping champagne corks if they won, earned Wisner an upbraiding from Judge Suzanne R. Bolanos.
“The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant for the harm for the conduct vis-à-vis your client, Mr. Johnson, not to punish Monsanto on behalf of any other, you know, future claimants out there or any plaintiffs in the country,” she said.
The jury will resume deliberations Thursday.
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