A jury has awarded a former school groundskeeper and pesticide applicator who has cancer $289.2 million in compensatory and punitive damages after finding that Monsanto failed to warn him of the dangers posed by his use of the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup.
The decision is a significant one for Monsanto because there are thousands of plaintiffs waiting in the wings to have their day in court against the St. Louis-based seed and chemical company, which will soon lose its name and become Bayer.
(Watch the reading of the jury verdict here)
The lawyers for Dewayne Johnson said in a news release, "After eight weeks of trial proceedings, the jury found unanimously that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup weedkiller caused Mr. Johnson to develop (non-Hodgkin lymphoma), and that Monsanto failed to warn of this severe health hazard. Importantly, the jury also found that Monsanto acted with malice, oppression or fraud and should be punished for its conduct."
Monsanto said it would appeal the decision, by a jury in a state court in San Francisco.
“Justice was not served today,” Monsanto Vice President Scott Partridge said in a phone interview after the verdict was announced. He reiterated Monsanto’s intention, already expressed in a statement released by the company, that it would appeal the decision.
The first step in that process will be to evaluate which post-trial motions to file. Partridge said one motion might address “conduct during the trial” by Baun Hedlund attorney Brett Wisner, specifically his statement to the jury that Monsanto officials had “champagne on ice” ready in the event of a victory for the company.
That scenario earned Wisner an admonishment from the judge, who called the remarks “very inflammatory and prejudicial.”
Partridge said he felt "pretty confident” about an appeal. “The overwhelming weight of evidence is that glyphosate is safe.”
Partridge also said that “we didn’t have a single case for 40 years" until the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, "came out with their opinion – not test data, not lab results – their opinion,” in 2015, that glyphosate is probably a human carcinogen. Partridge criticized IARC for not considering data that might have altered its conclusion.
In a statement released after the verdict was announced, Partridge said that while Monsanto is sympathetic to Johnson and his family, "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."
Wisner, Johnson's co-lead trial counsel, said in a news release, "We were finally able to show the jury the secret, internal Monsanto documents proving that Monsanto has known for decades that glyphosate and specifically Roundup could cause cancer. Despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to require labeling, we are proud that an independent jury followed the evidence and used its voice to send a message to Monsanto that its years of deception regarding Roundup is over and that they should put consumer safety first over profits."
At a press conference held late Friday afternoon, Wisner said he and his fellow attorneys would fight Monsanto "until the last minute, the last day." Asked whether Johnson and his family will ever receive any of the $289.2 million, he said, "That’s a tough question, in the sense that whether or not Monsanto does right by this man and his family, that’s their decision."
He added, "That Monsanto would engage in a process that would deprive a man who’s fighting cancer of compensation that he’s due is a testimony to the character of Monsanto. But we will fight and do everything we can so that Mr. Johnson and his family hopefully will have a chance to share that award."
The trial began June 22 and included testimony from scientists and doctors for both sides who discussed -- and disagreed about -- both the research on glyphosate's carcinogenicity and the specific details of Johnson's cancer. Witnesses for Monsanto said there was simply not enough data in the record to conclude that Roundup Pro or Ranger Pro, glyphosate-based herbicides that Johnson used when he had accidents involving his spraying equipment, contributed to his cancer.
"The human evidence tells you that nobody who medically has cared for Mr. Johnson or who is a doctor in this area believes that mycosis fungoides is causing -- is caused by glyphosate," Monsanto attorney George Lombardi said in his closing arguments Tuesday.
Mycosis fungoides is a type of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma that has left Johnson with rashes that have caused portions of his skin to fall off. He was a groundskeeper for the Benicia Unified School District in Benicia, Calif.
But Johnson's lawyers said he was drenched in Roundup after his two accidents, after which his rashes appeared. At the trial, the two sides disputed the timing of Johnson's illness, with Monsanto's lawyers insisting Johnson already had a rash when he was first exposed to Roundup. Johnson's side just as vehemently argued that the rashes occurred after the exposures.
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