Lawyers bombarded a San Francisco jury on Monday with reams of scientific studies about whether a Monsanto Co. weed killer caused a man to get terminal cancer.
Plaintiffs lawyer R. Brent Wisner spent more than three hours in his opening statement detailing every study and regulatory action that looked at whether there was a link between Roundup or its key ingredient, glyphosate, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. That’s according to coverage of the trial being broadcast by Courtroom View Network and monitored by ALM.
The plaintiff, Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, a school groundskeeper, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014 after two years of spraying Ranger Pro, a Monsanto herbicide with the “same exact chemicals” as Roundup. Wisner told jurors that Monsanto knew about the studies but failed to warn about the safety risks of its product, which has been on the market for four decades.
“This case really is about choice. It’s about the right of every single person in this room to make a choice about what chemicals they expose themselves, their family and their children to,” said Wisner, of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman. “And really nobody has a right to take that choice away from us simply because they would deprive us of the information we need to make that choice.”
Monsanto’s attorney, George Lombardi of Winston & Strawn, told jurors that the science doesn’t back up the plaintiff’s claims.
“The scientific evidence is overwhelming that glyphosate-based products do not cause cancer and did not cause Mr. Johnson’s cancer,” he said.
Monsanto, which is based in St. Louis, faces about 4,000 cases over Roundup. About 150 lawsuits have been coordinated in San Francisco Superior Court, one of which is Johnson’s case, which was brought in 2016.
Joining Lombardi in the courtroom were Sandra Edwards, chairwoman of the environmental law practice at Farella Braun + Martel in San Francisco, and Robyn Buck, Monsanto’s assistant general counsel of litigation.
On the plaintiff’s side, David Dickens of The Miller Firm in Orange, Virginia, joined Wisner. He sat next to Johnson, whose shortened life span spurred his lawyers to seek a trial preference.
Much of the openings were dry recitations of various types of scientific research.
Wisner said studies on mice and rats showed increased incidences of tumors and that Monsanto’s own expert found evidence of a link. He spent much of his time debunking the studies that found no link and, several times, differentiated glyphosate from Roundup, which contains other ingredients. And he leaned on a 2015 decision by the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifying glyphosate as a possible carcinogen.
In 2014, Johnson started to develop lesions, which eventually covered 80 percent of his body. Johnson wore protective gear, such as a full bodysuit, goggles and mask, while spraying the herbicide, but at least on one occasion the tube to his tank dislodged, drenching him in Monsanto’s product.
But Lombardi told jurors that Monsanto’s product—specifically, Ranger Pro—didn’t cause Johnson’s cancer. Studies on humans found no link, he said, as did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Johnson’s own doctors never told him that a herbicide caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which began years before he started working for the Benicia Unified School District.
“We’ll focus on the evidence that relates to whether Mr. Johnson’s cancer was caused by Ranger Pro,” Lombardi told jurors. “And we’re going to be very focused on that question.”