Plaintiff in Monsanto-Roundup bellwether trial seeks $373 million; Defense maintains product did not cause man's non-Hodgkin's lymphoma

By Glenn Minnis | Aug 9, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO - Attorneys for a California man, spending some of his final days locked in a bitter dispute with chemical giant Monsanto over what caused his deadly non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, asked jurors during closing arguments on Tuesday to render a verdict that would “actually change the world.”

Lawyers for Dewayne Johnson told a 16-member California Superior Court jury that they are seeking a minimum of $373 million in damages, or interest of Monsanto's cash on-hand in the years since their client was diagnosed with the deadly condition. 

Access to the trial was provided courtesy of Courtroom View Network

“That’s a number that makes people change their way,” said lead attorney Brent Wisner, a partner with Los Angeles based Baum, Hedlund, Aristei, Goldman. "Today is their day of reckoning. Every single cancer risk that has been found had this moment where the science finally caught up, where they couldn't bury it anymore."

Throughout the proceedings, Johnson’s legal team told the court he regularly used the best-selling weed killer Roundup as well as Ranger Pro as a pest control manager at a San Francisco Bay Area school district, at times spraying from quantities as large as a 50-gallon tank attached to a truck.

The father of two estimated that he applied the weed killer up to 30 times per year in performing his job duties.

Along the way, Johnson said he took every precaution to protect himself, with lawyers for him telling the court that he painstakingly read all the product labels and even contacted the company after he developed a rash after being accidentally doused by the product.

Johnson was officially diagnosed with lymphoma in 2014 after nearly three years of being on the job.

Meanwhile, Monsanto attorney George Lombardi, a partner in the Winston & Strawn LLP’s Chicago office, told the court Johnson’s legal team has spent the last several weeks trying to dispel what four decades of evidence has already well established.

“The message of 40 years of scientific studies is clear: this cancer is not caused by glyphosate,” said Lombardi, pointing to a 2017 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study that found the chemical not likely carcinogenic to humans.

Lombardi also argued that the form of cancer Johnson has been diagnosed with is not associated with glyphosate.

Roundup has been on the market for more than four decades and several media outlets have reported Johnson’s suit is one of more than 5,000 the company could soon face at trial across the country alleging that their glyphosate-containing herbicides cause cancer.

Earlier in the trial, Wisner told the court that over the years Monsanto has “fought science” by minimizing the long suspected links between the chemical herbicide and cancer that have been documented.

"For the past 40 years, Monsanto has known the primary ingredient in Roundup can produce tumors in lab animals," he said, adding that the company’s constant misrepresentations have come back to gravely haunt his client.

"He was told you could drink it,” Wisner told the court at one point during the proceedings. "You will hear testimony from him that he got drenched in it, repeatedly. He wore protective gear. He wore a full body plastic suit, mask, goggles or sunglasses. While plastic can stop water, it doesn't stop Roundup."

Filed in 2016, Johnson’s case was fast-tracked to trial by the court given the gravity of his illness and the fact doctors have expressed they don’t expect him to survive beyond 2020. Wisner has described his client as on “borrowed time.”

Founded more than a century ago in St. Louis, Mo., Monsanto was recently acquired by German-based pharmaceutical and chemical group Bayer for $62 million. It now employs more than 20,000 people and generates annual revenue exceeding $15 billion.

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Bayer Corporation Monsanto Company Winston and Strawn/Attorney

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