The first verdict to decide whether Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup was the cause of cancer proved to be significant: In August, a California jury awarded 46-year-old groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson about $39 million in compensatory damages and a whopping $250 million in punitive damages.
The jury agreed with Johnson’s attorneys that Monsanto ignored experts’ warnings that the weed killer containing glyphosate was dangerous, that they actively sought out favorable scientific analysis and encouraged research on continued usage.
4,000 more cases to come
While the verdict seemingly brought justice to Johnson, who has non-Hodgkin lymphoma with lesions over 80 percent of his body and reportedly only has months to live, the case has wider implications:
- There are more than 4,000 similar cases pending against Monsanto across the U.S., according to Johnson’s lawyers
- The trial centered around the dangers of glyphosate, whether Monsanto executives knew about those dangers and if they were negligent in not warning user about those dangers
- Glyphosate was developed by Monsanto but the patent has expired and the chemical now is found in more than 700 products in the United States.
Monsanto, a subsidiary of Bayer, maintains that glyphosate is safe. A company official said emails used in the trial to show that company executives knew and ignored facts about the product’s danger were taken out of context. The company cites decades of use as proof that glyphosate is safe when used as directed and says Roundup is approved to be used on more than 130 crops.
Meanwhile Johnson, who was a groundskeeper at a school district near San Francisco, said Monsanto should have had a warning that the herbicide was unsafe near children.
Judge changes punitive damages
The verdict took a twist in October when a judge ruled that the $250 million in punitive damages was too arbitrary and could only match the compensatory damages of $39,253,209.53, or about $78.5 million.
Some of the 4,000 pending cases have been consolidated. All are awaiting trial. A California couple, Alva and Alberta Pilliod, have asked a judge to set a court date for early 2019 since they both have non-Hodgkin lymphoma and are in ill health.
In early November, Bayer’s CEO said he would consider a settlement in the glyphosate lawsuits depending on court costs, but continues to deny the chemical causes cancer. Bayer bought Monsanto earlier in 2018 for $63 billion.