In a landmark case, a 36-year-old small-town attorney from Orange, Virginia, defeated agrochemical giant Monsanto in court after the weedkiller maker was found guilty and ordered to pay $289 million to a groundskeeper for failing to warn him that Roundup might cause cancer.
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Timothy Litzenburg says Dewayne “Lee” Johnson’s case was an uphill battle from the beginning, but in the end, jurors are always smarter than people think.
“Monsanto is very used to getting their own way. I was surprised that they even took this case to trial. I kept waiting for some big surprise or something that we may have missed, but it didn’t happen,” Litzenburg tells FOX Business.
On Friday, a California jury concluded that Monsanto’s Roundup and Ranger Pro products presented a “substantial danger” to terminally ill 46-year-old Johnson, who became sick with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after using the spray for more than two years as a groundskeeper for a school district outside of San Francisco. Jurors believed the company knew or should have known about the potential risks the products posed.
Bayer, Monsanto’s new owner since May, immediately released a statement following the verdict, saying it plans to appeal the verdict and the decision “does not change the fact that more than 800 scientific studies and reviews—and conclusions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and regulatory authorities around the world – support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer, and did not cause Mr. Johnson’s cancer.”
But Litzenburg says Monsanto’s struggles are far from over as he already has thousands of other cases with similar allegations against the chemical company lined up, and more phone calls of complaints have been pouring into his office since the verdict.
“The calls are pouring in. Again, we have thousands of complaints already,” he says. “In January, I already have a case in St. Louis. And then another one in Oakland, California. There’s going to be plenty more scheduled in the next few months, too.”
The 36-year-old father of two says his team doesn’t plan to change their strategy either because the jury seemed to understand the story of how someone could develop cancer from using Monsanto’s products.
“My goal right now is try to take as many cases to trial as I can,” he says. But he adds that this case wasn’t just about money for him and his client.
Johnson, who is a father of three and terminally ill, wanted more than anything to educate the world about Roundup and the side effects of using the spray.
“He wanted people to know, and he felt like he had this great burden from having spread this chemical on school grounds for so long,” Litzenburg adds.
Before Johnson was diagnosed with cancer, he called Monsanto’s call center twice to find out more information about its sprays and the health risks, and operators told him that he didn’t have anything to worry about.
Litzenburg says he hopes this case and others shined a light on governments around to world to start cracking down on the spray’s usage, similar to the way the tobacco industry was hammered in the 1990s.
“I hope my kids say to me in 20 years, I can’t believe you used to use that weed spray on your crops, just like how I couldn’t believe my parents smoked cigarettes on planes,” he says.
Litzenburg would not disclose how much his firm, The Miller Firm, made from the settlement.