A jury in California has ordered agribusiness giant Monsanto to pay $289 million to a school groundskeeper dying of cancer, saying the company should have provided a label warning that its weed killer could cause cancer.
The landmark case was the first lawsuit to go to trial among hundreds of similar lawsuits across the country alleging that Monsanto's weed killer, Roundup, causes non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Monsanto denies the allegation.
Jurors in San Francisco unanimously found Friday that Roundup and its professional grade version, RangerPro, contributed substantially to the illness of groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson. Jurors also found that Monsanto acted with malice by failing to warn Johnson and other consumers of the cancer risks posed by its weed killers.
The World Health Organization’s cancer arm in 2015 classified the main ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded in September 2017 that the chemical is not likely carcinogenic.
Jurors in San Francisco heard testimony from doctors, public health researchers and epidemiologists who disagreed on whether glyphosate is safe.
Monsanto in a statement said it would appeal the verdict.
“Today’s 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,” the company said.
Johnson, 46, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014. His lawyers said he regularly applied Monsanto's weed killer up to 30 times per year at his job with the San Francisco Bay Area school district.
Johnson’s case was fast-tracked for trial because of the severity of his illness. Doctors say he will not likely live past 2020.
Monsanto launched Roundup in 1976 and soon thereafter began genetically modifying plants to make some resistant to Roundup. The company was recently acquired by Germany's Bayer for more than $62 billion.