CMBG3 Law previously reported on the start of the first trial in the country in which allegations that glysophate in Monsanto’s Roundup and Ranger Pro weed killers cause cancer are being presented to the jury. Last week concluded the third week of trial and CMBG3’s Matt Lite brings you the latest from this groundbreaking trial.
The allegations in the case stem from 46-year old former groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2014 after spending two seasons spraying Monsanto’s Ranger Pro and Roundup products in school yards in Benicio, California. His case, originally filed in California Superior Court in 2016, alleges that while he used personal protective equipment, there were instances in which he would still become drenched in the product. U.S. and European regulators have all previously concluded that glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, is safe. In 2015, the World Health Organization’s Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified the ingredient as a probable human carcinogen, prompting a flood of lawsuits, including plaintiff DeWayne Johnson’s.
The fourth week of the trial began with Judge Suzanne Bolanos denying Monsanto’s motion for directed verdict, ruling that Johnson’s lawyers presented enough evidence against Monsanto regarding causation, design defect and failure to warn to justify sending the issues to the jury. However, she declined to rule on whether to send the question of punitive damages to the jury, referring to the issue as a “close call.”
Over the past month now a 16-member San Francisco jury has been listening to testimony from the Johnson, his wife, and many experts who have argued both sides of the crux of the case – whether the glysophate found in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer causes cancer in humans. On Tuesday, Lorelei Mucci, a Harvard cancer epidemiologist, criticized nearly half a dozen epidemiology studies regarding glyphosate, as she testified that any statistical link in the data connecting glyphosate and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is caused by systematic biases in the data, confounding variables that falsely give the impression that glyphosate causes cancer. Mucci flagged many factors such as failing to adjust for results to account for the use of other pesticides and using proxy data – data about a participant’s glyphosate use obtained from family members because the participant died or was too ill to respond.
The jury also heard from Dr. Timothy Kulez, a Chicago based oncologist, who suggested that the mycosis fungoides type of lymphoma that the plaintiff had was inherited and not at all caused by Monsanto’s products. Dr. Kulez spent the majority of Friday testifying about the emerging field of epigenetics: the study of inherited changes in gene expression that do not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence – a change in phenotype without a change in genotype – which in turn affects how cells read genes. Until recently, cancers were thought to result mainly from mutations in the DNA caused by environmental factors. Dr. Kulez told the jury “I think the fact that we don’t have any single gene mutation or disturbance may suggest DNA mutations and alternations may actually not be involved in the process in the process that leads to mycosis fungoides at all.” Kulez additionally testified that when a person has an immunological problem in the skin, T-cells from other areas of the body travel to and multiply at the site, causing mycosis fungoides. He concluded his testimony by suggesting that “without scientific fact, there is no way to say what caused any patient’s cancer”.
Dr. Kulez also addressed the length of time that it can take to develop Johnson’s form lymphoma. Although Dr. Kulez recognized plaintiff’s argument that one can develop cancers in just a few months, he explained that in all those instances where such a quick development was seen, it was caused when transplant patients were given immunosuppressant drugs causing a virus known at Epstein-Barr virus. “We do not see Epstein-Barr lymphoma outside of immunosuppressants” Kuzel concluded.
Closing arguments are set for Tuesday, August 7 with the question remaining whether the plaintiff will be allowed to argue for punitive damages. Regardless of the outcome of this trial, the case promises to be a bellwether case, as there are hundreds of other cases making the same allegations in various state and federal courts. The evidence that is brought out at trial and the jury verdict will factor heavily into how quickly the glyphosate litigation takes off nationally.
CMBG3 Law LLC has represented clients in products liability matters, especially with respect to allegedly toxic chemicals. We provide the most current legal advice to our clients by staying on top of developments in science, medicine, and regulations regarding a wide variety of substances and products used by consumers every day. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Matt Lite (email him or 617-279-8207) or John Gardella (email him or 617-279-8225).