Monsanto, the manufacturer of popular weed killers like Roundup, has been ordered to pay $289 million in damages in a toxic tort lawsuit linking the company’s products to cancer.
A California jury found in favor of the plaintiff, Dewayne Johnson, a 46 year-old who served as groundskeeper and pest control manager at a number of California schools. Johnson’s attorneys argued that he developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after using Roundup and other Monsanto products on the job. Glyphosate, an herbicide, is the active ingredient in those products, and the plaintiff’s team argued that there is a clear scientific connection between the herbicide and Johnson’s illness.
What Did the Jury Say?
The jury agreed, finding that Monsanto failed to issue adequate warnings to users of its products when it comes to cancer risks, and holding the company liable to the tune of $39 million in compensatory damages, plus another $250 million in punitive damages. (Learn more about damages in a personal injury case.)
What Does the Science Say?
For its part, Monsanto argued (and still maintains) that there is no connection between glyphosate and cancer, and the company is (no surprise) already huddling up to lodge an appeal of the decision. Even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization can’t agree on whether glyphosate is a carcinogen, with the EPA stating in 2017 that the chemical wasn’t likely cancer-causing, and WHO classifying it as “probably carcinogenic” in 2015 , according to The New York Times.
It’s important to note that this big verdict against Monsanto came as a result of a single lawsuit filed by one plaintiff. As the Times points out, Monsanto (which is owned by Bayer) faces as many as 5,000 similar lawsuits in courts across the U.S., and Johnson’s lawsuit was merely the first of these to go to trial.
Needless to say, a verdict of this size — again, we’re talking about the outcome of just one lawsuit among thousands — will spark some reassessment on the part of Monsanto and the plaintiffs suing them. It’s a safe bet that Monsanto will be a little more open to settling these cases than they might have been this time last month. The company now has roughly 289 million reasons not to put their financial fate in the hands of another jury. And what about the pros and cons of forming (from the plaintiffs’ perspective) and facing (from Monsanto’s) a class action over the health problems associated with Roundup and similar products? Certification of a class remains a distinct procedural possibility, so stay tuned.