Last week in California, a jury awarded DeWayne “Lee” Johnson a total of $289 Million in finding that agricultural giant Monsanto hid the dangers of Roundup weed killer. Johnson worked for a school district in San Francisco, and applied Roundup an estimated 20-30 times per year. Sadly, Johnson’s trial was expedited because the cancer that he alleges was caused by Roundup, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, has advanced to a stage where his body is covered in lesions and doctors are unsure of his life expectancy.
In reaching their verdict, the jury found that $39 Million was a reasonable amount to compensate the Johnson family for the cancer, which they found was caused by Roundup. The jury also found that Monsanto acted “with reckless disregard for human life” and awarded him another $250 Million in punitive damages, according to Johnson’s attorney, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. In awarding punitive damages, the jury essentially found that Monsanto was aware of the dangers of Roundup, and consciously chose not to warn consumers of the dangers posed by the product.
While the amount of the verdict may seem high, it is important to put it into context. The $39 Million was specifically earmarked to “compensate” Johnson for the damage that the jury found Roundup had caused. Johnson likely offered compelling testimony on the pain that Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma has caused to him, and how he suffered for years with cancer that he knew was terminal. When put into that context, the amount of the verdict quickly seems more reasonable. The $250 million was specifically entered to “punish” Monsanto and Roundup for hiding the dangers of the product. Punitive damage awards are not in place to compensate the victim, but to punish the company for hiding a danger or acting recklessly. The law allows punitive damages for the specific purpose of sending a message to companies that they need to change their practices.