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Terminally ill groundskeeper awarded damages of £226m in US cancer claim

In a landmark case in the US that may well have significant repercussions in many other countries, a terminally ill school groundkeeper has been awarded damages of $289 (£226m) in the first trial over a number of claims that the popular Roundup weedkiller causes cancer.

After three days of deliberation, the jury at San Francisco State Court has ordered chemical company Monsanto to pay the damages to groundkeeper Lee Johnson. Apart from the huge level of compensation involved, the decision may well now open the floodgates for thousands of similar litigation claims against Monsanto and the Roundup product, which is extremely popular and heavily used in modern farming and grounds maintenance activities. Monsanto said immediately after the decision that it would appeal the decision and is taking steps to reassure users of Roundup, including those in the UK, that the product is safe.

Monsanto vice president Scott Partridge, commented:

"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... we will work through the legal process to see if we can get the right result. The science is crystal clear."

Due to the advanced nature of his cancer, Mr Johnson, who was seeking $412m in damages, was unsure that he would live long enough to hear the verdict. Working for a school district in Benicia, California, over many years he had mixed and sprayed hundreds of gallons of Roundup. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2014, and in July 2017, after chemotherapy and other treatments, was given six months to live. Mr Johnson’s lawyers, relying on his testimony and expert witnesses, argued that his exposure, including accidents that got him soaked from head to toe in Roundup, caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

If as predicted the case will result in other verdicts against Monsanto, the financial impact on parent company Bayer could be huge.
The question of whether Roundup causes cancer has been widely debated by environmentalists, regulators, researchers and lawyers - even as Monsanto has insisted for decades that it’s perfectly safe. Monsanto scientists knew of the cancer risk as far back as the 1970s, but failed to inform the public and instead engaged in a "deliberate effort to distort the truth” as the weedkiller generated hefty returns, Mr Johnson’s lawyer, Brent Wisner, told the jury in closing arguments on Tuesday.

Wisner added: “Monsanto made a choice to not put a cancer warning on the label…that is a choice that shows their reckless disregard for human health, and today is their day of reckoning.”

If you would like advice following a fatal accident, contact us today to see what you may be entitled to claim for. We offer a no-win, no-fee service.  Call us on 0800 160 1296, or contact us online by completing our enquiry form here.
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