In a landmark lawsuit that may toll the death knell for 2013’s “most evil company in the world,” Monsanto has been found guilty of causing cancer. The initial $289 million in damages the chemical giant must pay is only the beginning of what will surely be numerous international class action lawsuits brought against Monsanto.
The San Francisco jury verdict is a bittersweet victory for 46-year-old Dewayne Johnson, a former school groundskeeper who claimed that exposure to Roundup weed killer was the direct cause of his terminal illness despite there being no cautionary language on the packaging about the health hazards linked to exposure.
Applying Roundup was a regular part of Johnson’s job with the Benicia school district. He had used dozens of gallons of this toxic substance. CBS News reported:
“He sprayed large quantities from a 50-gallon tank attached to a truck, his attorney, Brent Wisner, told jurors during his opening statement. When the wind was gusty, it would cover his face, Wisner said. When a hose broke once, it soaked his entire body.”
Doctors diagnosed his non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) in 2014 when Johnson was 42 years old. The jury was shown pictures of rashes and lesions on Johnson’s skin after regular exposure to the herbicide.
Johnson’s lawyers argued that Roundup “contributed to Johnson’s cancer and the company should have provided a label warning of the potential health hazard. Johnson’s attorneys sought and won $39 million in compensatory damages and $250 million of the $373 million they wanted in punitive damages.”
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., speaking for Johnson’s legal team, said that Monsanto has a bad attitude toward its customers and needs to pay for their careless disregard of human health and well-being:
“This 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. This should send a strong message to the boardroom of Monsanto.”
The historic trial lasted one month in San Francisco. In the past, Monsanto has discredited academics who offered scientific proof that RoundUp is hazardous and wriggled out of punitive lawsuits. This time, however, the jury ruled that the agrochemical company was responsible for “negligent failure” and knew (or should have known) that RoundUp was a “dangerous” product.
In a revelation that many people knew was true for quite a long time, prosecution attorney Wisner said evidence produced during the trial proved that Monsanto had acted unethically in order to preserve their corporate reputation and shareholder value:
“We were finally able to show the jury the secret, internal Monsanto documents proving that Monsanto has known for decades that…Roundup could cause cancer.”
Wisner showed internal emails from Monsanto that illustrated how the corporation refused to heed sound scientific data and went further to intimidate any opponents to their “all is well” narrative:
“Monsanto has specifically gone out of its way to bully…and to fight independent researchers. They fought science.”
Johnson bowed his head while his wife, sitting beside him, cried, as Wisner pronounced:
“The simple fact is he’s going to die. It’s just a matter of time. Between now and then, it’s just nothing but pain.”
Another of Johnson’s lawyers, Timothy Litzenburg, cited his client’s courage and the positive role model he has been for his family:
“Whatever happens … his sons will get to know that their dad was brave enough to go up against Monsanto completely alone, and first, before he died.”
With only months to live, Johnson can leave this world knowing that he has tossed the small pebble over an icy cliff that will snowball into monstrous consequences for the arrogant and self-serving Monsanto.
It is estimated that 8,000 other plaintiffs have filed cancer claims against Monsanto. Now that Johnson’s case forced the disclosure of millions of pages of corporate documents through the discovery process, we can expect millions, if not billions, of dollars of future punitive payoffs:
“There are 580 lawsuits pending against Monsanto Co. in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, filed by people alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and that Monsanto covered up the risks.”
Roundup products are registered in 130 countries for use on more than 100 types of crops. Glyphosate, the carcinogen present in the weed-killer, “has been found in food, a variety of water sources, and the urine of agricultural workers and others” to the extent that many countries have restricted sales or banned them outright.