Popular weed killers like Roundup® rely on the herbicide glyphosate as their active ingredient, but a link between glyphosate and serious health problems (including a form of cancer known as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma) has prompted the filing of thousands of toxic tort lawsuits (many by landscapers, farmers, and gardeners). Let’s look at the legal arguments behind these cases, and recent headlines involving Roundup® lawsuits.
Injuries and health problems caused by exposure to dangerous substances—including prescription drugs, pesticides, and other chemicals―are often classified as "toxic torts".
Sometimes chemicals that are thought to be fairly safe turn out to pose serious health risks. When it comes to weed-killing sprays, manufacturers like Monsanto (maker of Roundup®) argue that there is no scientific connection between glyphosate and cancer, and they point to the fact that even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization can't agree on whether glyphosate is a carcinogen (in 2017, the EPA stated that the chemical wasn't likely cancer-causing, despite the fact that two years earlier, the WHO had classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic"). Learn more about toxic tort lawsuits for injury caused by chemicals.
Despite the absence of a definitive scientific connection between Roundup® and cancer, the link has been strong enough to support some high-profile verdicts in a number of glyphosate lawsuits against Monsanto.
Here's a look some recent court action involving Roundup®.
In the first Roundup® injury lawsuit to reach a verdict, a California jury found in favor of a 46-year-old groundskeeper who worked at a number of California schools. The plaintiff's attorneys argued that the groundskeeper developed non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after using Roundup® on the job, and that there is a scientific connection between the product and the illness.
The jury agreed, finding that Monsanto failed to issue adequate warnings to consumers when it comes to Roundup® and cancer risks. Monsanto was ordered to pay $39 million in compensatory damages, plus another $250 million in punitive damages. Note: The total award was later reduced to $78.5 million.
A second California jury found that use of Roundup® was a "substantial factor" in the development of a California man's non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, after he used Roundup® on his property for decades.
A third California jury ordered Monsanto to pay $2 billion in punitive damages in a lawsuit filed by a couple who both developed cancer after using Roundup® for over 30 years. The couple was also awarded another $55 million as compensation for their medical bills, pain and suffering, and other damages.
After a federal jury in California awarded a plaintiff around $75 million in punitive damages as part of a successful Roundup® lawsuit, the judge cut that figure to around $20 million. Although evidence showed that the plaintiff had used Roundup® for over 25 years (in his yard) before developing cancer, the judge found the punitive damages award "constitutionally impermissible" relative to the amount of compensatory damages awarded (around $5 million, an amount the judge left unchanged).
Roundup® remains on store shelves across the country, and the product continues to be touted in print and TV ads. Monsanto is already in the process of appealing the verdicts we’ve covered here, but lawsuits against the company (and even against certain retailers of Roundup®) continue to be filed, so check back for updates.