Jury awards $289 million to man who said Roundup gave him cancer

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The maker of a commonly used weed killer has been ordered to pay $289m (£266m) to a dying groundsman who says the product contributed to his cancer.

It's the first lawsuit to go to trial alleging a glyphosate link to cancer.

Following eight weeks of trial proceedings, the San Francisco jury ordered Monsanto to pay US$250 million in punitive damages along with compensatory damages and other costs, bringing the total figure to almost US$290 million.

Since contracting non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Johnson has developed lesions all over his body and sometimes struggles to speak.

Monsanto has denied the Roundup causes cancer, but the jury, it seems, disagreed. "Today's decision does not change the fact that more than 800 scientific studies and reviews...support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer, and did not cause Mr. Johnson's cancer", the company said.

Monsanto is now facing hundreds of lawsuits, many of which were filed after that 2015 announcement.

Its attorneys say they have the bulk of scientific research firmly on their side, and that they will appeal against the verdict, meaning it could be years before Johnson and his family see a dime of the damage award.

"This jury found Monsanto acted with malice and oppression because they knew what they were doing was wrong and doing it with reckless disregard for human life", said Robert F. Kennedy Jr, a member of Johnson's legal team. He called on Monsanto to "put consumer safety first over profits".

He said Monsanto will "continue to vigorously defend this product, which has a 40-year history of safe use and continues to be a vital, effective, and safe tool for farmers and others". "This should send a strong message to the boardroom of Monsanto".

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Johnson said he hoped his verdict would bolster the other cases.

Johnson's lawyers sought and won 39 million dollars (£30 million) in compensatory damages and 250 million dollars (£196 million) of the 373 million dollars (£292 million) they wanted in punitive damages.

"I'm glad to be here to be able to help in a cause that's way bigger than me, " Dewayne Johnson said at a news conference on Friday (Saturday NZ time) after the verdict was announced.

The claimant in the case, groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson, is among more than 5,000 similar plaintiffs across the US.

When using the product in windy conditions it would come into contact with his face, while on one occasion he was left soaked in the weedkiller when a hose broke.

In California, where a judge recently ruled that coffee must carry a cancer warning, the agriculture industry sued to prevent such a label on Roundup even though the state lists it as a chemical known to cause cancer.

In his closing argument, the plaintiff's attorney, Brent Wisner, told the jury it was time for Monsanto to be held accountable. But, the World Health Organization has classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic".

Over the course of the four-week trial, jurors heard testimony by statisticians, doctors, public health researchers and epidemiologists who disagreed on whether glyphosate can cause cancer.