A San Francisco jury returned a verdict today in the case of a former groundskeeper with terminal cancer against Monsanto Company, ordering the agrochemical giant to pay $39.2 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages for failing to warn consumers that exposure to Roundup weed killer causes cancer.
Dewayne “Lee” Johnson filed the lawsuit (case no. CGC-16-550128) against St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. on Jan. 28, 2016, alleging exposure to the Roundup herbicide he sprayed while working as a groundskeeper for the Benicia Unified School District caused him to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
On June 18, 2018, his case was assigned to Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos for the Superior Court of San Francisco, California. Johnson’s case was the first of its kind to proceed to trial due to his terminal diagnosis.
After eight weeks of trial proceedings, the jury found unanimously that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup weed killer caused Mr. Johnson to develop NHL, and that Monsanto failed to warn of this severe health hazard. Importantly, the jury also found that Monsanto acted with malice, oppression or fraud and should be punished for its conduct.
Monsanto Co. continues to refuse to warn consumers of the dangers of its multi-billion-dollar product Roundup despite the world’s foremost authority on cancer—the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)—listing glyphosate as a probable carcinogen in 2015.
Lee Johnson is one of more than 4,000 people from across the country to file suit against Monsanto in state and federal courts based on allegations linking Roundup to cancer.
He was represented at trial by Brent Wisner of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei and Goldman, David Dickens of the Miller Firm and Mark Burton of Audet & Partners LLP.
Co-lead trial counsel Brent Wisner said today’s verdict was a result of newly-revealed, confidential company documents.
"We were finally able to show the jury the secret, internal Monsanto documents proving that Monsanto has known for decades that glyphosate and specifically Roundup could cause cancer," Wisner said. "Despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to require labeling, we are proud that an independent jury followed the evidence and used its voice to send a message to Monsanto that its years of deception regarding Roundup is over and that they should put consumer safety first over profits."
For years Monsanto has claimed that there is no evidence that Roundup causes cancer, yet a mountain of testimony and documents was admitted during the trial. Johnson’s attorneys proved through testimony from Monsanto’s witnesses that company employees “ghostwrote” scientific articles and paid outside scientists to publish the articles in their name.
Internal documents revealed that a scientific advisor hired by Monsanto told the company that past testing for Roundup was insufficient because glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, was tested in isolation without the other chemical ingredients that make up the Roundup formulation.
"Many of these confidential Monsanto documents were unsealed for the first time,” co-lead counsel David Dickens said. “They show that Monsanto knew that its testing was insufficient and that there was a synergistic effect when glyphosate is combined with surfactants which help the glyphosate penetrate both plant and animal cell walls.”
In other now-public documents, Monsanto employees reacted to California EPA’s listing of glyphosate as a carcinogen by calling Californians “liberals and morons,” overwhelming Monsanto like a “zombie movie” that they had to take out one at a time starting with the 2016 presidential election.
In addition to hearing from expert witnesses, the jury listened to heart-wrenching testimony from Lee Johnson and his wife, Araceli.
Araceli recalled for the jury the many sleepless nights Lee spent crying in bed when his children were not around. “He tried to hide it, and I think he tried to show that he was strong,” she said. “He tried to be positive; he wanted to be…for us and the kids.”
After her husband began chemotherapy, Araceli took a second job working 14-hour days to help pay the family’s rising medical bills while still driving her two sons an extra 45 minutes to Napa Valley School District in hopes of providing them better educational opportunities.
When Lee took the stand, he told the jury how scared and confused he was after receiving the news that he had cancer. He also described the times he contacted Monsanto to see if the skin lesions he developed were related to his use of Roundup. When he did not hear back from the company, he continued to use the herbicide.
Most notably, Johnson testified that he would never have used Roundup if he had known of the dangers, and accused Monsanto of concealing Roundup’s safety risks to continue profiting from its billion-dollar herbicide.
“I never would’ve sprayed that product on school grounds or around people if I knew it would cause them harm,” Johnson said during emotional testimony. “It’s unethical. It’s wrong. People don’t deserve that.”
A team of lawyers from three law firms represented Mr. Johnson in this trial: The Miller Firm, LLC of Orange, Virginia, Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, P.C. of Los Angeles and Audet & Partners LLP of San Francisco. These firms represent thousands of Roundup cancer plaintiffs across the nation.
The firms are nationally known and handle complex product liability cases, among others, and hold leadership positions in the federal and California state Monsanto Roundup litigation. Monsanto faces more than 4,000 Roundup cancer cases nationwide and that number is growing.
The next Roundup cancer trial against Monsanto is also a state case and is scheduled to occur in October in St. Louis, Missouri. Now that the judge in the federal multi-district litigation (based in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco), has accepted several of the plaintiffs’ experts to testify, trial dates for the federal bellwether cases should be announced in the next couple of months.