A San Francisco jury on Friday ordered agribusiness giant Monsanto to pay $289 million to an ex-school groundskeeper dying of cancer, saying the company's Roundup weed killer contributed to his disease. Dewayne Johnson's suit was the first of thousands of cases filed in state and federal courts alleging that Roundup causes cancer, which Monsanto denies. Johnson said he hoped his verdict would bolster the other cases, the AP reports. "This case is way bigger than me," Johnson said during a presser after the verdict. "I hope it gets the attention that it needs." Jurors in California superior court agreed the product contributed to Johnson's cancer and the company should have provided a label warning of the potential health hazard. Johnson's attorneys sought and won $39 million in compensatory damages and $250 million of the $373 million they wanted in punitive damages.
Johnson used Roundup and a similar product as a pest control manager at a San Francisco area school district, his lawyers say. He sprayed large quantities from a 50-gallon tank, and when it was windy, the product would cover his face, per one of his attorneys. Once, when a hose broke, the product soaked his entire body. Johnson read the label and contacted the company after developing a rash but was never warned it could cause cancer, the attorney said. Johnson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2014 at age 42. But an attorney for Monsanto said non-Hodgkin lymphoma takes years to develop, so Johnson's cancer must have started well before he began working at the school district; the EPA says Roundup's active ingredient is safe for people when used per label directions. Monsanto has denied a link between Roundup's active ingredient—glyphosate—and cancer, saying hundreds of studies establish the weed killer is safe. A Monsanto rep says they'll appeal. (Read more Monsanto stories.)