Controversy has surrounded Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer for years. The FDA has gone back and forth on whether or not glyphosate, the pesticide’s active ingredient, is carcinogenic. The manufacturer denies that its product is dangerous. However, a California jury recently came to a different conclusion. In 2018, a San Francisco jury awarded $289 million in damages to a man who they believed developed cancer after being exposed to Roundup.
Roundup Lawsuits Claim the Pesticide Causes Cancer
Thousands of lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto, alleging that the company failed to warn consumers about health risks associated with its most popular pesticide. The lawsuits were filed after individuals exposed to Roundup developed non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a type of cancer. Monsanto is accused of not only putting a dangerous product on the market without warnings but also manipulating research and studies to hide negative results.
Roundup Lawsuits Consolidated into MDLs
When a product is dangerous or defective, injured patients have the right to file product liability lawsuits against the company behind that product. “In California, companies have an obligation to make sure that the products sold to consumers are safe,” according to Sherwin Arzani, a Los Angeles lawyer. They can be liable for injuries if they are negligent in the design, manufacture, or marketing of their products.
A truly dangerous product has the potential to harm hundreds, if not thousands, of consumers. As a result, a company can realistically face thousands of lawsuits over a single product or issue. Thousands of Roundup weed killer lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto and its new owner, Bayer. Many of these lawsuits are based on similar facts and are accusing the company of the same things.
When several similar cases exist, they can be consolidated into multi-district litigations, or MDLs. This means that they will be heard in a single court before a single judge. MDLs are different from class action lawsuits in that every plaintiff reserves his or her right to go to trial. It’s not one single case. It’s multiple cases consolidated into a single court.
Early cases, known as bellwether trials, tend to set the tone for MDLs. The results of these early trials help to assess the strength of the claims and determine how much the cases may be worth. In 2018, Monsanto was dealt a huge blow when a jury awarded a plaintiff $289 million in the first bellwether trial.
DeWayne Johnson Awarded $289 Million in Roundup Cancer Lawsuit
For years, DeWayne Johnson worked as a groundskeeper at a school in California. Part of his job involved spraying a pesticide on campus grounds between 20 and 30 times a year. The school’s pesticide of choice was the most widely used product in the world: Roundup weed killer.
Johnson was exposed to Roundup weed killer and its main ingredient, glyphosate, for years. He was also doused in the pesticide on two different occasions, the first in 2012. Two years later, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Johnson filed a product liability lawsuit against Monsanto, accusing them of failing to warn him about the health risks involved in using Roundup.
At trial, Johnson, a dying man, sat before the jury. His body was visibly covered in sores and lesions, a side effect of his cancer. The jury listened to his story and considered opposing arguments about the toxic effects of glyphosate. Once arguments were finished, the jurors were asked to answer two questions.
- Can glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, cause cancer?
- Did Monsanto fail to warn Johnson about that risk of cancer?
The jury deliberated for three days before concluding that glyphosate can cause cancer and that Monsanto failed to warn about that risk. It awarded Johnson $39 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages.
Monsanto appealed the decision to award Johnson $289 million in damages. A judge agreed that the punitive damages were excessive and reduced the total award to $78 million. Despite this, the fact that Monsanto lost this first case has already affected other Roundup lawsuits.
More Roundup Lawsuits to Be Tried in 2019
Hundreds of Roundup lawsuits are being prepared for litigation in 2019. After losing the Johnson case, Monsanto began to attack the evidence used to suggest that it “attempted to influence regulators and manipulate public opinion.” Some of those attacks have been successful. Judges are limiting when and how certain pieces of evidence can be introduced in new Roundup trials.