SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A closely-watched trial began in San Francisco Monday pitting chemical giant Monsanto Corporation, whose weed-killer Roundup has been accused of causing cancer, against a Bay Area resident who claims the product is responsible for his terminal illness.
Lee Johnson, 46, of Benicia says he plans to to spend what may be the last days of his life in court trying to prove that Roundup and its key ingredient glyphosate responsible for his terminal non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Johnson also accused Monsanto of covering up the potential dangers that glyphosate can cause.
"The world is watching," said Brent Wisner, an attorney for Lee. "Because what you do here has really important consequences."
Johnson said that he had used dozens of gallons of Roundup working as a groundskeeper for Benicia Unified School District. What the jury decides could set a precedent for hundreds of future cases. There are around 2,000 other cancer patients who have used or been exposed to Roundup extensively and if Lee's attorneys are successful, they say the sky is the limit on what they want Monsanto to pay.
"What would it take to trade your good health for what Mr. Johnson is dealing with?" said Robert Kennedy, one of Johnson's attorneys. " I don't think you would trade it for 20, 40, 50, or 100 million dollars."
The main argument from Monsanto's lawyers is that glyphosate is not explicitly linked to causing Johnson's illness. "Glyphosate has no association with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma," said Monsanto attorney George Lombardi. "Cancer is a terrible disease. Mr. Johnson's cancer is a terrible disease. [But] the scientific evidence is overwhelming that glyphosate products do not cause cancer."
The center of the debate is whose science the jury will believe, and if Monsanto has any responsibility to warn people against using its product.
"It's about the right of every single person in this room to make a choice about what chemicals they expose themselves, their family, or their children to," said Wisner.
"It's going to be the plaintiff's burden to connect up his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma to his exposure, and they're not going to be able to do that." said Lombardi.
Lee's lawyers have gone so far as to call the case a cover-up, saying Monsanto has known for the past 20 years that glyphosate could cause cancer and has been hiding the information from the public. In court Monday, Monsanto's lawyers called that claim "unequivocally false."
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