Herbicide Occupational Exposures: The Next Wave of Serious Compensation Claims


A liability trial commenced this week in San Francisco against Monsanto for the alleged carcinogenic propensities of its popular herbicide RoundUp. The claim was brought on behalf of a school groundskeeper who is suffering from a terminal cancer. He alleged that his exposure to the glyphosate-based herbicide caused his disease. The case is one of 5,000 that are now being cued-up for trial. 

The case mirrors the trajectory of asbestos exposure claimsthe longest run tort in US history. The initial two liability cases, brought against the manufacturers, suppliers and distributors of asbestos fiber in the 1970’s, trigged a mass onslaught of workers’ compensation cases on a national basis.

Glyphosate, N-(phosphonomethyl) glycine, is one of the most widely used herbicides. It is the active ingredient in products such as Roundup, Rodeo Aquatic Herbicide, and Eraser. Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide that tis used on broadleaf weeds, grasses, and woody plants.

Occupational exposure cases usually turn on the opinions of medical experts and this case is no exception. Reuters reported, “ One of the experts is Beate Ritz, a public health professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who has criticized EPA studies of glysophates as flawed and concluded based on her review of available research that glyphosate-containing products "to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty" cause the lymphoma cancer….. The other is Alfred Neugut, a cancer research professor at Columbia University, who reached the same conclusions as Ritz based on his review of scientific literature.”

Whatever the outcome of either the State and Federal Court glyphosate liability action, the ramifications in workers’ compensation claims remain uncertain. Since the standard of proof in workers’ compensation actions is based on an administrative law system, glyphosate claims may begin to emerge as the next wave of serious occupational exposure claims.

The case is Dewayne Johnson v. Monsanto Co, Superior Court of California, County of San Francisco, No. CGC-16-550128.


 Jon L. Gelman is nationally recognized as an author, lecturer and skilled trial attorney in the field of workers’ compensation law and occupational/environmental disease litigation. Over a career spanning more than four decades, he has been involved in complex litigation involving thousands of clients challenging the mega-industries of asbestos, tobacco, lead paint and burn pits. He is the author of the 3-volume treatise entitled Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise of Modern Workers' Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters).


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