After nearly three days of deliberation, a San Francisco jury ordered chemical giant Monsanto to pay $289 million to a school groundskeeper who says he got cancer from using the company’s popular Roundup weed killer. Dewayne Johnson, a 46-year-old Bay Area resident battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma, won the landmark judgement Friday (Aug. 10).
“This jury found Monsanto acted with malice and oppression because they knew what they were doing was wrong and doing it with reckless disregard for human life,” said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., one of Johnson’s lawyers. “This should send a strong message to the boardroom of Monsanto.”
Johnson’s lawsuit is the first trial case alleging glyphosate herbicides in weed killers might cause cancer. Glyophosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, and has been deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency, if used properly. In 2015, the World Health Organization’s cancer research agency classified the herbicide as “probably carcinogenic [cancer causing] to humans.”
Johnson’s job as pest control manager of San Francisco Bay Area schools required him to spray gallons of Roundup and a smiliar weedkiller, Ranger Pro, as many as 30 times a year. He says that he was never warned of any potentially deadly effects, and had particular trouble on windy days because the chemical would spray back in his face. In another incident, a hose broke, leaving Johnson drenched in toxic liquid. He also developed a rash on his skin, the Associated Press reports.
Johnson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014, and is likely to live for another two years, according to his doctor’s testimony. The court awarded Johnson $39 million in future losses and a whopping $250 million in punitive damages. The courtroom erupted in cheers as the judgement was announced. Johnson became emotional.
Monsanto — a St. Louis-based company which was acquired by Bayer pharmaceuticals in June — denies claims that Roundup can cause cancer. Responding to the court judgement, a company spokesperson expressed sympathy for Johnson and his family but added, “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.”
READ MORE: Flint Citizens Are Initiating A $700 Million Lawsuit Against EPA For Water Crisis