$289M damages where weed killer Roundup causes terminal cancer

15th August 2018 Personal Injury

A jury in the US state of California has awarded a school groundsman, who is terminally ill with cancer, $289 million in compensation against the manufacturer of Roundup weed killer as he alleged the chemicals in the product which he used at work caused his illness.

The claimant, Dewayne Johnson, is only 46, and has a wife and children and believes he has only weeks to live. Here in the UK, stores have announced they are reviewing their decisions to sell Roundup in light of the decision.

So why such a large award?

No amount of money can truly compensate for loss of life. However, in the US there is a very different system to England and Wales, and juries determine awards, rather than judges.

$250 million of the reported award was punitive damages, designed to punish the manufacturer, because the jury accepted the claimant's arguments that the company had knowledge of the potential carcinogenic qualities of the chemicals within the product. The remaining award was to compensate Mr Johnson for his injuries.

The manufacturer announced that it planned to appeal the verdict which means he is unlikely to receive the money until the further hearing has taken place. The manufacturer relied on its own medical evidence and scientific studies which found no link between the chemicals and the Claimant's illness.

So how would the award differ in England and Wales?

Here, compensation is designed to place the claimant back in the position they would have been but for the accident as far as it can. Of course, the legal system cannot force a defendant to apologise, heal an injury or cure a disease so instead it tries to calculate in financial terms what is needed to achieve this aim.

Damages to punish defendants are much less common here; exemplary damages can only be awarded in very limited categories of cases, and not in claims of personal injury arising from negligence. They are available in some specific causes of action, including where there are claims against the state, such as actions against the police for false imprisonment, malicious prosecution or assault and battery.

Here in England and Wales we calculate damages for an individual's pain and suffering by looking at judicial guidelines and previous similar decisions by the Court. Where there has been loss of life following an accident or disease, the law calculates the financial losses incurred by the dependants, based on the deceased's income and services to the family. Statute limits who can recover compensation. Our process is therefore very arithmetical and fact based, tailored to the individual. Where there is a living claimant whose life expectancy is shortened because of a disease a financial award is made for the lost years in which they would have received a salary or pension.

As a team that specialises in working with individuals who have sustained injury whilst abroad, whether that's working or holidaying, we have connections in America and various other countries to ensure that any individual who comes to us with a claim can receive the best possible support and advice that is tailored to their needs.

If you have concerns that you may have been exposed to Roundup in similar circumstances, or if you have suffered an injury whilst out of the country, JMW's personal injury team is here to help you get the compensation you deserve. Get in touch with me, joanne.brine@jmw.co.uk or on 0800 054 6570 with any queries and I'll help you get your claim underway.

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Peter Grogan is a Partner and Head of Department located in Manchester in our Business Crime, Regulation & Driving Offences department

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