San Francisco jurors hear closing arguments in Monsanto cancer trial

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - A San Francisco Superior Court jury heard closing arguments Tuesday
in the civil suit against pesticide manufacturer Monsanto, brought on by a 37-year-old Vallejo man who said he was diagnosed with cancer after regularly using the company's pesticide.

Dewayne Johnson, a former groundskeeper for the Benicia Unified School District, testified last month that he used Monsanto's weed killer Roundup Pro multiple times at his job between 2012 and 2016, before being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

Today, Johnson's attorney, Brent Wisner, said he's seeking more than $39 million in compensatory damages and $373 million in punitive damages.

During closing arguments, Wisner asked jurors to decide whether Monsanto's product contributed or caused Johnson's cancer, and whether the company acted with disregard by not providing a label warning of a potential health hazard.

Wisner told the jury that since Johnson first began experiencing a persistent rash throughout his body in 2013 followed by his subsequent cancer diagnosis, Johnson has suffered mental pain, physical impairment, anxiety and emotional distress.

"My worst enemy I would not wish that upon," Wisner said, adding that Johnson continues to suffer from cancer and is set to begin chemotherapy in the coming weeks. "Hopefully this time the chemo doesn't actually kill him, it came close last time."

According to Wisner, several studies exist on the toxicity of glyphosate, Roundup Pro's main ingredient, and that Monsanto itself deliberately failed to test the product on humans.

"The evidence is overwhelming that they knew about the risks," he said.

Defense attorney for Monsanto, George Lombardi countered that glyphosate affects plants, but not humans, citing other studies that found no evidence between glyphosate and the risk of any solid tumors or lymphoid malignancies, non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and its subtypes.

"This is what independent scientists have concluded," he said.

Lombardi cited recent findings by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, stating that glyphosate is "not likely to be carcinogenic to humans."

Johnson's attorneys have cited a 2015 report by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer that classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans."

"Without IARC they have nothing," Lombardi said. "They've relied on IARC to make you believe that's what caused it (the cancer).

"IARC doesn't consider all of the evidence... They had a very limited universe to look at," he said. "The EPA is constantly looking at the product and has constantly concluded that it's non-carcinogenic."

During his rebuttal, Wisner said, "Other than hiding behind the EPA, Monsanto has no defense... The truth is that it causes cancer, it caused Mr. Johnson's cancer and these guys need to be held accountable." 

Last month Johnson testified that although he always wore protective gear when using Roundup Pro, he would constantly get it on his face, and on at least two occasions, it spilled onto his body.

After being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2014, he continued to use the pesticide at his job and allegedly even contacted Monsanto and a distributor to seek information about whether there is a link between the pesticide and non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

Johnson's wife, Araceli Johnson, also testified last month, alleging that Johnson became extremely depressed after his diagnosis and, because he was unable to work, she had to take on an extra job to provide for him and their two young boys.

"This is Monsanto's chance to do right by people and do the right thing," Wisner said today outside of court. "What this man has gone through is unconscionable and I hope Monsanto is held accountable."

Monsanto has maintained that Roundup has been on the market for 40 years and does not cause cancer.

Glyphosate's pesticide properties were discovered in the 1970s and in 1974, Monsanto began selling it under the name Roundup.

Jurors are set to begin deliberating on Wednesday morning.