In the first case to directly connect Monsanto's Roundup with deadly cancer, a jury has awarded $289 million to a former California school district groundskeeper whose fragile state pushed his case to the forefront.

It was an outcome DeWayne Johnson's family wasn't sure he would see in person, according to CNN.

Lawyers for Johnson focused their efforts on proving Monsanto suppressed evidence that its Roundup herbicide has cancer-causing properties. Opening statements began in San Francisco on July 9.

Johnson's attorney said Monsanto took away his client's freedom to choose, reported KGO. "If you don't give someone a choice and somebody gets hurt or, God forbid, gets cancer, then I personally believe and I think you will as well that you should be responsible for the consequences of that," attorney Brent Wisner said.

"I don't think it's a surprise that after 20 years, Monsanto has known about the cancer-causing properties of this chemical and has tried to stop the public from knowing it," said attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Monsanto argued that Johnson developed cancer before using Roundup. "The scientific evidence is overwhelming that Glyphosate-based products do not cause cancer and did not cause Mr. Johnson's cancer," said defense attorney George Lombardi. "The single most relevant study — best study, study of human beings who, like Mr. Johnson, are licensed pesticide applicators — concluded glyphosate is not associated with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Mr. Johnson's cancer."

The jury awarded $250 million in punitive damages and about $39 million in compensatory damages. After the verdict, the company said it stood by the studies and will appeal the ruling.

Weeding out the truth

DeWayne Johnson, 46, worked as a groundskeeper for the Benicia Unified School District in California from 2012 to 2015. In that role, he sprayed Roundup herbicides on school properties. Johnson was healthy when he started the job, but in August 2014, he received a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

By January 2018, Johnson's body was 80 percent covered in lesions, according to the deposition of his physician; he is often unable to speak or leave his bed, despite a new treatment he started in January. At the time, his doctors thoughts he might only have months to live.

Johnson's lawsuit alleged that Monsanto's product caused his cancer, and that Monsanto was aware of the medical risks posed by its glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup, but covered it up through a campaign of misinformation and attacks on studies that proclaimed the dangers.

In May, Judge Curtis Karnow ordered that jurors in the trial may consider the scientific evidence regarding Johnson's cancer as well as the allegations that Monsanto knowingly suppressed findings regarding glyphosate's potential cancer-causing dangers.

"The internal correspondence noted by Johnson could support a jury finding that Monsanto has long been aware of the risk that its glyphosate-based herbicides are carcinogenic … but has continuously sought to influence the scientific literature to prevent its internal concerns from reaching the public sphere and to bolster its defenses in products liability actions," Karnow wrote in the order. "Thus there are triable issues of material fact."

A Monsanto corporate sign in France Monsanto is accused of misleading the public regarding the safety of glyphosate-based herbicides. (Photo: ricochet64/Shutterstock)

The California-filed lawsuit is just one of many pending, The Guardian reports, with around 4,000 plaintiffs or their families suing Monsanto over NHL allegedly developed because of exposure to Roundup. One such case is scheduled to go to trial in October in Monsanto's home town of St. Louis. Also, a judge in San Francisco ruled earlier this summer that hundreds of lawsuits could proceed to trial.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in 2015, and California declared it one in 2017.

For its part, Monsanto has denied the allegations and disputes various studies that found glyphosate poses risks to human health. Instead, the company points to studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency, among others, that found that Roundup isn't carcinogenic.

"Glyphosate-based herbicides are supported by one of the most extensive worldwide human health and environmental effects databases ever compiled for a pesticide product," Monsanto writes in a glyphosate safety document. "Comprehensive toxicological and environmental fate studies conducted over the last 40 years have time and again demonstrated the strong safety profile of this widely used herbicide."

In the Johnson case, Monsanto argued that other factors led to Johnson's cancer and disputed the scientific claims and studies Johnson's lawsuit used to build its case.

Editor's note: This article was originally published in May 2018 and has been updated with more recent information.