Law Street Media

Court of Appeals Affirms Decision, but Reduces Damages, in Original Roundup Case

On Monday, the California First Appellate District Court affirmed a decision made by California courts in the first court case regarding Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and its potential to cause health problems. In this lawsuit, Dewayne Johnson, a school district grounds manager, sued Monsanto alleging that the principal ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, was the cause of his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The court rejected Monsanto’s arguments but did reduce the jury-awarded damages.

The plaintiff was the grounds pest manager for Benicia Unified School District and sprayed Roundup products on school grounds, which he was certified to use. He claimed that the product labels and training did not contain information that the product could be linked to cancer. He followed instructions to minimize drift harm, spraying when others were not present and the winds were calm. When using Ranger Pro, a roundup product which is more potent, he used a protective suit and other protective equipment but claimed the product still drifted onto his face “about 80 percent of the time.”  He sprayed between 2 and 5 hours a day depending on the season.

In April 2014 his hose broke and sprayed the product in all directions, getting into his protective gear and soaking him. Johnson allegedly cleaned himself at a maintenance sink. In the following months, he started to develop a rash which led him to visit a physician and later a dermatologist where he was diagnosed with a rare form of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the mycosis fungoides classification. He claims he called Monsanto to ask if his condition was possibly related to the event and left a statement with a representative and was never called back. His skin conditions continued to develop and worsen and eventually, he refused to keep spraying Roundup.

Monsanto in its appeal argued that the plaintiff did not establish its liability and the court “prejudicially erred” in its rulings. They further argued that the damages awarded were excessive and that Johnson’s claims were preempted by federal law. The Court said in its statement on Monday that it rejected these arguments but concluded that the “awards of future noneconomic damages and punitive damages” will be reduced. The jury’s award for future noneconomic damages was reduced to $4 million, giving a total award of $10,253,209.32.

Bayer, which purchased Monsanto shortly before the initial ruling in this case, agreed to pay $10 billion to settle many of the Roundup claims which have been filed against the companies in June. Throughout the lawsuit, the parties have argued whether Monsanto has adequately researched the possibility that glyphosate could damage genetic information in cells and cause cancer.

According to the opinion, the plaintiff was represented by The Miller Firm; Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman; and Audet Partners. The defendant was represented by Horvitz & Levy and Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner.

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