Dewayne Johnson v Monsanto Company, Case No. CGC-16-550128
Court: Superior Court of California, San Francisco
Date of the verdict: 10 August 2018
A jury in the United States has awarded $289 million (USD) to Dewayne Johnson, a former school groundskeeper, who sued Monsanta Company (Monsanto) for exposure to Monsanto’s herbicides and its active ingredient, glyphosate. Mr Johnson argued that his exposure to these products caused him to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). The jury deciding the case concluded inter alia that Monsanto’s failure to warn of the potential risks of these products was a substantial factor in causing harm to Mr Johnson and that there was clear and convincing evidence that Monsanto had acted with malice or oppression in its conduct.
Mr Johnson worked as a groundskeeper for the Benicia Unified School District in San Francisco. Between 2012 and 2015, Mr Johnson’s job required him to apply Monsanto herbicides to school properties. This included a weed killer called Roundup and a similar product called Ranger Pro. Mr Johnson applied the weed killer 20 to 30 times per year while working as a groundskeeper, and would spray large quantities from a 50-gallon tank attached to a truck. During this time, he also had two accidents in which he was soaked with the product.
In 2014, Mr Johnson began to experience severe skin irritation. He contacted Monsanto, asking if his skin irritation could have been caused by using Roundup. Although internal emails later obtained by his attorneys revealed that his queries were discussed by Monsanto employees, Monsanto did not respond to him and he continued to use Roundup.
In August 2014, Mr Johnson was diagnosed with epidermotropic T-cell lymphoma. Thereafter, his job required him to continue to apply and be in close contact with Monsanto glyphosate-based herbicides. His cancer progressed despite chemotherapy, and in September 2017, a biopsy revealed that Mr Johnson had developed NHL.
Mr Johnson filed a cancer lawsuit against Monsanto in 2016. Mr Johnson’s case is the first case filed by a cancer patient against Monsanto to reach trial. According to Mr Johnson’s attorneys, Monsanto is facing thousands of lawsuits in state and federal courts in the United States filed by farmers, farmworkers, gardeners, landscapers, government workers and others who allege that their exposure to Roundup weed killer caused them to develop NHL, and that Monsanta concealed the health risks associated with the herbicide. This includes approximately 4 000 similar cases awaiting trial in various state courts, and a further 400 cases that have been filed in federal multidistrict litigation.
In sum, the jury answered the questions before it as follows:
- Did Roundup or Ranger Pro fail to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would have expected when used or misused in an intended or reasonably foreseeable way? Answer: Yes.
- Was the design of Roundup or Ranger Pro a substantial factor in causing harm to Mr Johnson? Answer: Yes.
- With regard to strict liability and the failure to warn – did Roundup or Ranger Pro have potential risks that were known or knowable in light of the scientific knowledge that was generally accepted in the scientific community at the time of manufacture, distribution or sale? Answer: Yes.
- Did the potential risks present a substantial danger to persons using or misusing Roundup or Ranger Pro in an intended or reasonably foreseeable way? Answer: Yes.
- Would ordinary consumers have recognised the potential risks? Answer: No.
- Did Monsanto fail to adequately warn of the potential risk? Answer: Yes.
- Was the lack of sufficient warnings a substantial factor in causing harm to Mr Johnson? Answer: Yes.
- With regard to negligent failure to warn – did Monsanto know or should have reasonably known that Roundup or Ranger Pro were dangerous or were likely to be dangerous when used or misused in a reasonably foreseeable manner? Answer: Yes.
- Did Monsanto know or should have reasonably known that users would not have realised the danger? Answer: Yes.
- Did Monsanto fail to adequately warn of the danger or instruct on the safe use of Roundup or Ranger Pro? Answer: Yes.
- Would a reasonable manufacturer, distributor or seller under the same or similar circumstances have warned of the dangers or instructed on the safe use? Answer: Yes
- Was Monsanto’s failure to warn a substantial factor in causing harm to Mr Johnson? Answer: Yes.
- With regard to punitive damages – did you find by clear and convincing evidence that Monsanto acted with malice or oppression in the conduct upon which you base your finding of liability? Answer: Yes.
- Was the conduct constituting malice or oppression committed, ratified or authorised by one or more officers, directors or managing agents of Monsanto acting on behalf of Monsanto? Answer: Yes.
In light of the above, the jury awarded Mr Johnson $39 million for his losses and $250 million in punitive damages against Monsanto. Monsanto has indicated that it intends to appeal the verdict.
A recording of the verdict being delivered is accessible here.
The plaintiff’s statement of case is accessible here.
Please note: The information contained in this note is for general guidance on matters of interest, and does not constitute legal advice. Power Singh Inc. was not involved in this matter. For any enquiries, please contact us at [email protected].