A California jury has ordered agricultural giant Monsanto to pay a former school groundskeeper $289 million in damages after finding he contracted non-Hodgkin's lymphoma from using the company’s industry leading weed-killer Roundup.
In a verdict that is expected to open the floodgates to a steady stream of similar litigation against the company, the 16-member California Superior Court jury awarded Dewayne Johnson $250 million in punitive damages and nearly $40 million in compensatory damages.
Access to the trial was provided courtesy of Courtroom View Network.
Throughout the proceedings, attorneys for Johnson told the court that Monsanto’s negligence has amounted to a death sentence for their client, as doctors have now given him less than two-years to live after regularly working with Roundup and the weed-killing chemical Range Pro over a three year window.
During the trial, the 46-year-old father of two told jurors he used Roundup up to 30 times a year in performing his duties, at times spraying from quantities as large as a 50-gallon tank attached to a truck. He testified that over time, he had two accidents in which he was doused with the chemical product, with the first mishap occurring in 2012.
Johnson, who has been described by his attorneys as on "borrowed time," added that two-years later he was officially diagnosed with lymphoma and since then lesions have consumed as much as 80 percent of his body and he has difficulty performing such basic functions as speaking coherently.
Still, his attorney, Timothy Litzenburg of the Miller Firm in Virginia, told the court his client’s biggest struggle came when he had to find a way to tell his two young sons he had terminal cancer and from having to watch his wife be forced to work two 40-hour-per-week jobs just to keep the family afloat.
CNN reported Litzenburg estimated that as many as 2,000 similar cases against Monsanto are now waiting to be heard in state courts across the country. Johnson’s case was fast-tracked to trial given the severity of his condition and his grave prognosis.
Jurors deliberated for nearly three days before concluding Monsanto failed to provide adequate warning about the risks associated with it products, opening Johnson up to the deadly condition he now suffers from.
During trial, Johnson told the court he took every precaution to protect himself, even calling the company after he began to develop rashes from regularly using Roundup, which has been on the market now for more than four decades.
“The jury found Monsanto acted with malice and oppression because they knew what they were doing was wrong and doing it with reckless disregard for human life," Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a member of Johnson's legal team, told the Associated Press. “This should send a strong message to the boardroom of Monsanto."
In a statement, Monsanto’s vice president Scott Partridge said the company disputes the findings and plans to appeal the verdict.
'We are sympathetic to Mr. Johnson and his family," Partridge said. “But the court decision does not change the fact that more than 800 scientific studies and reviews . . . support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer, and did not cause Mr. Johnson's cancer."
In his statement, Partridge added the company will "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."