Groundsman with terminal cancer wins €253m from weedkiller maker

Dewayne Johnson has a terminal form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Groundsman with terminal cancer wins €253m from weedkiller maker

Plaintiff Dewayne Johnson reacts after hearing the verdict in his case against Monsanto at the Superior Court of California in San Francisco | Image: Josh Edelson/AP/Press Association Images

The maker of a commonly used weedkiller has been ordered to pay US$289m (€253m) to a dying groundsman who says the product contributed to his cancer.

A jury in San Francisco told agribusiness giant Monsanto it must pay $250m (€218m) in punitive damages and $39m (€34m) in compensatory damages after the firm lost a legal case.

The court was told Dewayne Johnson has a terminal form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which he claims he caught after working as a pest control manager at a school.

Mr Johnson used Roundup and a similar product Ranger Pro - both made by Monsanto - while carrying out the duties of his job, his lawyers said.

He sprayed large quantities from a 50-gallon tank attached to a truck and during gusty winds the product would cover his face, one of his lawyers Brent Wisner told the court.

At one point, when a hose broke, the weedkiller covered his entire body.

Mr Johnson read the label but said he was never warned the product could cause cancer, Mr Wisner said.

In 2014, at the age of 42, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos reads the verdict in the case against Monsanto at the Superior Court of California in San Francisco | Image: Josh Edelson/AP/Press Association Images

Robert F Kennedy Jr, a member of Mr Johnson's legal team, said after the verdict: "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.

"This should send a strong message to the boardroom of Monsanto."

Roundup is thought to be the most commonly used weedkiller in the world.

It contains glyphosate, a herbicide that has been the subject of huge controversy in the EU - where several countries have attempted to bring in a bloc-wide ban, despite the opposition of farmers.

Monsanto, a subsidiary of German firm Bayer AG, has denied glyphosate is linked to cancer, saying hundreds of studies have found the product to be safe.

Monsanto vice president Scott Partridge told consumers the firm's product was safe to use.

He said: "Roundup has been safe for four decades and will continue to be safe. There is no credible scientific evidence that demonstrates otherwise.

"It is completely and totally safe and the public should not be concerned about this verdict, it is one that we will work through the legal process to see if we can get the right result. The science is crystal clear."

Containers of Monsanto Roundup weedkiller on a shop shelf in New York | Image: Richard B Levine/SIPA USA/PA Images

Monsanto, which is facing up to 5,000 similar lawsuits across the country, said it would appeal against the verdict.

Mr Kennedy Jr, the son of the late US Senator, said: "I think the verdict is going to trigger a cascade of new cases."

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said on Twitter the verdict had "huge implications for the food chain".

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says glyphosate is safe when users follow directions on the label.

But the France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organisation, classed the chemical as a "probable human carcinogen" in 2015.

California has also added glyphosate to its list of chemicals known to cause cancer.

Several countries around the world have banned it, amid claims it impacts ecosystems.