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On August 10th, 2018, Dewayne Johnson, a 46-year-old man facing a terminal non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis, won a massive victory in a landmark case.
Johnson had used Monsanto’s Roundup up to 30 times per year while working as a groundskeeper in a California school district. The California jury determined that the weed killer caused Mr. Johnson’s cancer and that the pesticide-maker failed to warn him of the health hazards from his exposure.
The jury ordered Monsanto (which merged with Bayer in June 2018 to create an enormous agrochemical and pharmaceutical company) to pay Mr. Johnson a total of $289 million.
This case was particularly noteworthy because the judge allowed Johnson’s team to present scientific arguments about what caused his cancer, as well as claims that Monsanto suppressed evidence that showed the risks of its weed-killing products.
During the extensive trial, the plaintiff’s attorneys brought forward internal emails from Monsanto executives. The emails demonstrated how the corporation repeatedly ignored experts’ warnings, sought favorable scientific analyses, and helped “ghostwrite” research that encouraged continued usage.
The jury found Monsanto to be responsible for “negligent failure” and declared that the company knew or should have known that its product was “dangerous.”
Monsanto, of course, disagreed with the ruling and plans to appeal. It will likely be years before a final settlement is reached.
And it seems unlikely that Dewayne Johnson will live long enough to receive any money because doctors have told him he only has months to live. However, the husband and father of three said he hopes his suffering will not be in vain. He also hopes labels will change so that, in the future, people like him won’t be left to risk their lives without a warning if they’re using a product that causes cancer in humans.
As Monsanto’s new owner, Bayer might be having some mixed feelings about its recent $66 billion purchase. The company, which plans to discontinue use of the Monsanto name, is not only acquiring all of Monsanto’s assets but also its liabilities. The day after the August 10th ruling, Bayer’s stock price dropped by 12%.
With the precedent of this court case, the burden is now on Monsanto / Bayer to prove that Roundup is safe.
If they fail to do so, subsequent courts will uphold the ruling, and Mr. Johnson’s case could be only the beginning.
In fact, there are now more than 8,000 lawsuits like Mr. Johnson’s that are currently moving through the courts.
Can the company successfully defend and appeal all of them? And will Mr. Johnson’s victory open the floodgates to even more cases?
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