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Jury awards $280 million to man with terminal cancer

VERDICT: DeWayne Johnson listens during the Monsanto trial in San Francisco last month. (Photo credit: Reuters)

A SAN Francisco jury has ordered chemical company 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, is battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma and won the landmark judgement on 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 Organisation’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 similar weedkiller, Ranger Pro, as many as 30 times a year.

According to the Associated Press Johnson 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.

Johnson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014, and is likely to live for another two years, according to his lawyer’s testimony. The court awarded Johnson $39 million in future losses and a whopping $250 million in punitive damages.

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.”

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