Dewayne “Lee” Johnson wanted to send a message to Monsanto that it was wrong. This summer, he took the company to court alleging Monsanto’s Roundup and Ranger Pro weed killers contained a toxic ingredient that contributed to his terminal cancer diagnosis. He claimed Monsanto knew of the risks but failed to warn the public.
As a school groundskeeper, Johnson was accidentally drenched in the chemicals twice. When he called the company to ask if he should be concerned for his health, they promised to get back to him but never did. When he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, he took the company to court. In a landmark lawsuit against Monsanto, which has since been acquired by Bayer AG, a jury agreed with Johnson, awarding him $289 million in damages.
Last week, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos denied Monsanto’s motion to toss the multi-million-dollar verdict, but did slash his punitive award by $211 million to protect the company’s due process rights. Punitive damages were reduced from $250 million to $39.5 million – equal to his compensatory award – bringing the total award to $78.5 million.
Johnson had the right to either accept the reduced punitive award, or Judge Bolanos said she would grant Monsanto’s motion for a new trial for the punitive award only. On Friday, Johnson said he would accept the lower award. However, Johnson said he would not waive his right to appeal the reduced punitive award if Monsanto appeals the court’s denying of its motion for a new trial.
Johnson’s case was the first to go to trial among thousands alleging Monsanto’s herbicides Roundup and Ranger Pro’s caused consumers to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The weed killers contain glyphosate, a chemical that Johnson argued during trial has been linked to cases of blood cancer.