A U.S. jury in the Californian city of San Francisco has awarded a man terminally ill with cancer 289 million U.S. dollars in damages in a case against agricultural giant Monsanto on Friday.
Dewayne Johnson, who is 46 and near death according to his doctors, sued the company, arguing that its product Roundup has led to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in him.
A father of two, Johnson applied the herbicide 20 to 30 times per year while working as a school groundskeeper in the San Francisco Bay Area, his attorneys said. There were also occasions when he was soaked with the product, according to CNN.
The jury, after three days of deliberation, ruled that Monsanto shall pay Johnson 250 million dollars in punitive damages and 39 million dollars in compensatory damages. It said Monsanto should have warned users about the dangers of its Roundup and Ranger Pro weedkillers.
In 2015, a report by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said the key ingredient in Roundup, namely glyphosate, is "probably carcinogenic to humans." Glyphosate is a herbicide brought to market use in 1974 by Monsanto and is now sold by various manufacturers as its patent has expired.
The IARC report has since led to a mounting number of lawsuits against Monsanto. Johnson's case is the first to have been tried as dying plaintiffs can be granted expedited trials in California. Hundreds more are pending, according to National Public Radio.
"I'm glad to be here to be able to help in a cause that's way bigger than me," Johnson said at a news conference after the verdict was announced.
However, in a written statement issued after the verdict, Monsanto maintained that Roundup is not carcinogenic, saying more than 800 scientific studies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health and regulators worldwide have all concluded that glyphosate is safe for use and does not cause cancer.
"We all have sympathy for Mr. Johnson," Scott Partridge, vice president of Monsanto said, adding that glyphosate is not the answer Johnson has been looking for to his disease, according to CNN.
"We will appeal this decision and 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," Monsanto's statement said.