Groundskeeper, 49, from Pennsylvania is awarded record $2.25BILLION after jury finds decades of using Roundup weed killer caused his blood cancer

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Written By Maya Cantina
  • Adds billions to payouts to Americans who claim product caused blood cancer 
  • Manufacturer denies health officials’ warnings that ingredient is a carcinogen 
  • READ MORE:  Roundup made to pay $1.56 billion to three people it gave cancer

A Pennsylvania groundskeeper is set to become a billionaire after a court found Bayer’s weed killer Roundup caused his blood cancer.

The consumer giant will be forced to pay $2.25billion to John McKivison, 49, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2020, which he and attorneys successfully argued was a result of using Roundup for two decades.

The sum — broken down as $2bn in punitive damages and $250 million in compensatory damages — is thought to be the biggest ever payout to an individual for company negligence.

Bayer said it plans to appeal the ruling and insists its product is not a carcinogen, refuting a World Health Organization report that said otherwise.

But the company has already settled past disputes involving its product’s links with the cancer totaling more than $10 billion.

Roundup’s key ingredient is a chemical compound called glyphosate, which has been named a carcinogen by the World Health Organization and the state of California. Bayer and Monsanto deny this

McKivison successfully argued that Monsanto and parent company Bayer were ‘negligent’ and ‘failed to warn about the dangers’ of its product.

McKivison’s attorneys, Tom Kline and Jason Itkin, said: ‘The jury’s unanimous verdict was a condemnation of 50 years of misconduct by Monsanto and a declaration that its misconduct was in reckless disregard of human safety and a substantial cause of John McKivison’s cancer.’ 

Bayer vowed to overturn the verdict, calling the massive sum ‘unconstitutionally excessive’, adding that the ruling ‘conflicts with the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence and worldwide regulatory and scientific assessments.’

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is not a single disease but rather an umbrella term for over 30 types, classified based on the type of lymphocyte, a white blood cell, that is involved. 

This type of cancer can result from exposure to cancer-causing chemicals such as glyphosate, the key ingredient in the weed-killer.

NHL kills around a third of sufferers within five years of a diagnosis.

While Mr McKivison’s current health status is unknown, he was reportedly diagnosed with the cancer in 2020.  

Despite the latest Pennsylvania ruling on top of the myriad others that have come down in the consumers’ favor, Bayer continues to sell Roundup, which can be purchased in an endless number of retail spaces from Amazon to mom-and-pop home improvement stores.

The company insisted that its product does not contain any carcinogens, even after the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, said glyphosate is ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ in 2015.

Two years later, California named glyphosate an ingredient that causes cancer under the state’s Proposition 65, which requires Roundup to carry a warning label if sold in California. 

But, in April 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reaffirmed that glyphosate does not cause cancer.

The personal care behemoth was still ordered to pay $2 billion in punitive damages and $250 million in compensatory damages to cover the damage done to Mr McKivison.

The company said: ‘While we have great sympathy for the plaintiff in this case, we are confident that our products can be used safely and are not carcinogenic, consistent with the assessments of expert regulators worldwide.’

Glyphosate is marketed either as a salt or an amber-colored liquid with no smell.

Its original maker, Monsanto, introduced it in 1974 as an effective way of killing weeds while leaving crops and plants intact.

Bayer acquired Monsanto in 2018 in a $63 billion deal.

This is far from the first legal reckoning Bayer has had to face over charges that its product has caused cancer in its users.

In 2019, San Francisco appeals court on Monday upheld a 2019 decision granting a massive $86 million sum to Alva and Alberta Pilliod of Livermore, who sued Bayer claiming that they were diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma as a direct result of 30 years using the glyphosate-based lawn treatment.

Bayer has denied claims that Roundup or its active ingredient glyphosate causes cancer, Pictured: Alva and Albert Pilliod, who won a lawsuit claiming Roundup caused their cancer

Bayer has denied claims that Roundup or its active ingredient glyphosate causes cancer, Pictured: Alva and Albert Pilliod, who won a lawsuit claiming Roundup caused their cancer

Dewayne 'Lee' Johnson (pictured) was awarded $289 million in damages in his trial against agrochemical colossus Monsanto

Dewayne ‘Lee’ Johnson (pictured) was awarded $289 million in damages in his trial against agrochemical colossus Monsanto

The couple’s cancers are in remission, however, both went through ‘long and painful treatments and are still suffering,’ the court said.

And in 2018, terminally ill Dewayne Johnson, 46 at the time, won $289 million in a landmark verdict against Monsanto after a jury found that the weedkiller Roundup played a large role in causing his NHL.

Johnson worked as a groundskeeper from 2012 through mid-2015, mixing and spraying hundreds of gallons of Roundup to keep grass and weeds under control.

One of Johnson’s attorneys, Timothy Litzenburg, told then that Johnson would spray the product between 30 and 40 times per year.

Despite wearing protective gear, Johnson said he was often drenched in the product. In one exposure accident, he testified that he wasn’t able to shower for six hours.

The jury awarded Johnson $250 million in punitive damages and nearly $40 million in compensatory damages, bringing the total to $289 million. His case was the first to reach trial alleging a cancer link from Roundup.

Non-Hodkin lymphoma starts in the white blood cells called lymphocytes, a key facet in the body’s immune system. There are two main types of lymphocytes – B cells, which protect against bacteria and viruses by making antibodies, and T cells, which destroy germs and abnormal cells.

B cell lymphomas are more prevalent compared to T cell lymphomas.

The precise mechanisms leading to the development of various non-Hodgkin lymphomas remain unclear, though it appears that lymphocytes acquire the ability to proliferate rapidly and extensively, causing uncontrolled cell division that can result in the formation of cancerous lymph nodes or tumors.

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