On August 10, 2018, jurors in San Francisco ruled that Roundup, the biggest weed-killing product on the market, was responsible for a school groundskeeper’s cancer. Dewayne Johnson was awarded $289 million in damages after he developed a terminal case of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s likely that this verdict will set a precedent for the other cases in which the herbicide caused cancer.
Scientists have debated for years about the dangers of the herbicide, but the results of this case make it clear that the product is dangerous. If you’ve used the herbicide and are now battling cancer, there may be a connection.
The Culprit: Glyphosate
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup weed killer, was first introduced to the market by Monsanto in 1974. Although it was originally meant for small-scale use, the invention of GMOs in the 1990s allowed farmers to apply the product across their fields without killing their crops. As a result, Monsanto’s product quickly became the most widely-used weed poison in the world, particularly for agriculture.
According to Johnson’s lead trial lawyer, Brent Wisner, Monsanto’s scientists have been aware of the product’s dangers since the 1970s, but they failed to warn the public. The herbicide was an extremely profitable product, and they chose their financial success over the well-being of the public.
In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer reported that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” This means that there is limited evidence that the chemical causes cancer in humans and sufficient evidence that it causes cancer in lab animals. The IARC’s report states that the evidence comes from studies of exposures in the United States, Canada, and Sweden since 2001 as well as several studies on lab animals.
Plaintiffs were enraged when the former chairman of the EPA offered to stop a review on whether or not glyphosate is carcinogenic, seemingly to protect Monsanto. By the end of 2017, more than a thousand cancer patients had sued Monsanto, and the company responded that there is no proof that glyphosate causes cancer. Monsanto’s vice president of strategy stated that over 800 scientific studies agree that glyphosate is safe.
However, Timothy Litzenburg, one of Johnson’s attorneys, argued that glyphosate itself isn’t the problem. The chemical likely interacts with other ingredients in the herbicide, which makes the entire product more carcinogenic.
In addition to possibly causing cancer, glyphosate is linked to a number of other symptoms and health conditions. Medical issues that may be associated with glyphosate include the following:
- Kidney disease
- Liver damage
- Multiple sclerosis
- Respiratory disorders
- Parkinson’s disease
Dewayne Johnson applied Monsanto’s herbicide 20 to 30 times per year while working for a school district east of San Francisco. He would use a 50-gallon tank to spray the product, and the herbicide would cover his face whenever the wind blew.
Johnson was regularly exposed to small amounts of glyphosate, but he had two accidents that left him soaked in the product. The first accident was in 2012, and he developed a rash shortly after. He read the product label carefully but found no warnings, and he even contacted Monsanto about the issue. The company didn’t inform him of any of the dangers of glyphosate.
In 2014, just two years after his first glyphosate accident, Johnson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The disease progressed quickly, and by the time of his trial, there were lesions on up to 80 percent of his body. On some days, he was in too much pain to speak.
In July 2017, Johnson’s oncologist gave him six months to live. Fortunately, he surpassed that prediction and made it to his trial. This case was the first of the Monsanto lawsuits to go to trial because California grants expedited trials to dying plaintiffs.
It’s impossible to prove that the herbicide caused Johnson’s cancer, but Monsanto also can’t prove that it didn’t. The burden of proof was on the plaintiffs, though. Johnson’s lawyers had to convince the jury that the product was a “substantial contributing factor” to Johnson’s cancer. It didn’t necessarily have to be the only cause, but the attorneys needed to prove that the cancer wouldn’t have formed if Johnson wasn’t exposed to the herbicide.
Johnson’s attorneys focused on the interaction between glyphosate and the other ingredients in Monsanto’s product. Although Monsanto provided plenty of studies showing that glyphosate is safe, there is not nearly as much evidence that Roundup as a whole is not carcinogenic.
Fortunately for Johnson and the other victims of the herbicide, the jury unanimously agreed that the weed poison was at least partially responsible for the cancer and that Monsanto should have included a warning label on the product. Of the $289 awarded, $39 was for compensatory damages, and $250 was for punitive damages. “This is a big victory for human health worldwide,” Timothy Litzenburg said after the trial.
What Happens Next?
Dewayne Johnson still has terminal cancer, but he will now be able to access the best medical treatment and live as comfortably as possible. His family will also no longer have to worry about paying for his care. Hopefully, this case will open the door for more people who have been affected by Monsanto’s herbicide to be compensated. After the verdict, Johnson said, “I’m glad to be here to be able to help in a case that’s way bigger than me.”
According to Litzenburg, more than 4,000 cases against Monsanto are currently awaiting trial. About 400 more have been filed in federal multidistrict litigation, which is like a class-action lawsuit. All the pre-trial proceedings are consolidated in federal multidistrict litigation, but each case receives a separate trial.
Many people who have used the herbicide and are now suffering from cancer have come forward, but there could be hundreds or thousands of other cancer patients who don’t yet realize that they have a case. It’s important for lawyers across the country to work quickly to achieve justice, especially for patients who are close to death.
After Johnson’s verdict, Monsanto representatives stated that the company stands by studies that suggest that the weed killer is not carcinogenic. Vice president Scott Partridge said, “We will appeal this decision and 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.”
With so many cases like Johnson’s that will appear in court soon, Monsanto seems unlikely to win this battle. Bayer, the company that recently bought Monsanto, saw a 14 percent drop in their shares the Monday after the announcement of the verdict. With each new trial, the shares may continue to get lower and lower.
What to Do If You’ve Used Roundup Weed Killer
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer after using Monsanto’s weed killer at home or at work, you may be able to file a lawsuit. Although it’s impossible to know exactly what caused your cancer, there’s a chance that the herbicide played a role, and you deserve to be compensated.
To find out if you have a case, you can contact the Hartman Law Firm, LLC and schedule a free consultation. You and your personal injury attorney will discuss the details of your story to determine whether there is a link between your cancer and Monsanto’s herbicide.
The most common types of cancer linked to the weed-killing product are non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia. However, as more research is done on the herbicide, scientists may discover a connection to other cancers as well.
The more you’ve been exposed to the herbicide, the more likely it is that the product is at least partially responsible for your cancer. Most people who are filing lawsuits work as farmers, landscapers, or groundskeepers, so they have been repeatedly exposed over a long period of time. Exposure to the chemical can occur from direct skin contact, inhalation, or contamination of your food.
If your attorney agrees that you have a case, you may be able to seek the following damages:
- Past and future cancer treatment expenses
- Wage losses
- Economic losses as a result of the cancer and treatment
- Compensation for pain and suffering
- Punitive damages
You should collect copies of all of your medical records to help your attorney build your case. If possible, you should also write down the timeline of when you used the herbicide and when your medical symptoms began. The more information you have, the more evidence your lawyer will be able to collect.
Nothing will truly be enough to compensate you for the pain and suffering cancer causes. However, your lawsuit can ease your financial burden and help prevent Monsanto and similar companies from repeating their mistakes. If you live in the Charleston, South Carolina area, call The Hartman Law Firm, LLC to put your case in the hands of an experienced and dedicated attorney and to get the compensation you deserve.