Another landmark jury verdict against Monsanto and in favor of a California man who claims decades of Roundup use caused his cancer could help hundreds or even thousands of similar cases gain momentum and traction in the courts.
On Tuesday, a federal jury in San Francisco found that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup was “a substantial factor” in causing plaintiff Edwin Hardeman, a 70-year-old Santa Rosa man, to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Mr. Hardeman’s case is the first to be tried in federal court, where hundreds like it are pending. Because it’s the first such federal case, its trial is considered a bellwether that could indicate and influence the direction of future trials. Two more bellwether cases will be tried this year in the same court.
Mr. Hardeman testified that he sprayed Roundup for nearly 30 years to control weeds and poison oak on his 56-acre property, and even got the Monsanto herbicide on his skin. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in February 2015.
Monsanto, which is now part of the German pharmaceutical conglomerate Bayer, has maintained that its glyphosate herbicides are safe and do not promote cancer. The company’s claims clash with those of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the U.N. body that considers glyphosate a “probable human carcinogen.”
In August, a San Francisco Superior Court jury awarded former area groundskeeper DeWayne Johnson $289 million. Mr. Johnson, 46, claimed he developed terminal non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after spraying Roundup as often as 30 times a day in a four-year span of groundskeeping work. The award was later reduced to $78 million.
Compensatory and punitive damages for Mr. Hardeman will be decided during the next phase of the trial, in which jurors will weigh issues of liability.
Mr. Hardeman’s victory could also portend a rough road ahead for Monsanto because U.S. Judge Vince Chhabria restricted the trial to arguments of whether Roundup exposure caused his cancer. The jury was not allowed to hear evidence that Monsanto “bullied” scientists who arrived at negative and potentially damaging conclusions about glyphosate’s safety. These and other restrictions effectively served as a handicap, giving Monsanto a considerable advantage in the case.
Judge Chhabria said that aside from the argument that Roundup causes cancer, “there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue.”