It was the case heard around the agriculture world. A jury awarded a school groundskeeper a multi-million dollar verdict. Attorneys convinced the jury that Dewayne Johnson’s terminal cancer was caused by exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide, was labeled a probable carcinogen in 2015 by the International Agency on Cancer Research. So Monsanto was on the hook for a lot of money.
And there were lots of other potential plaintiffs ready to take a crack at the now-extinct company. There are over 5,000 cases pending in California courts. They all seek compensation from Monsanto for cancer allegedly caused by exposure to products that have glyphosate in them.
But attorneys eager to get their own $250 million verdict are now soliciting other potential plaintiffs. Television and radio commercials in farm country share Johnson’s story and ask others similarly afflicted to call. Not even social media is immune from such advertisements. The message is clear: call these attorneys and you too could see a huge payout for your suffering.
So I called.
All in the name of research, of course. I wanted to get some insight into how these cases were managed. I’m sure plenty of loony people call the hotlines. So I wanted to know how they screen calls, determine whether potential plaintiffs have legitimate claims, and handle those claims. And I wanted to know whether there were limitations on who they would take on as clients. Or are they just filing lawsuits willy-nilly?
My call was answered by a very friendly and cheery guy. I explained that I saw the television commercial, I was interested in learning more, and could he answer some questions. He readily agreed. He wasn’t an attorney, simply intake personnel. But he was familiar with the process and described what needed to happen before I could speak to an attorney.
The firm was only looking for individuals suffering from the same type of cancer as Johnson, namely non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Potential plaintiffs should be relatively healthy when diagnosed with the cancer. No prior conditions, evidence of disease, or other major illnesses. And anyone exposed to smoking or Agent Orange were also disqualified. And the cancer diagnosis had to come after exposure to Roundup.
As to that exposure, the only rule was that potential clients had to use the weed killer any time in the 2000s to present. It didn’t matter why the person used Roundup, just as long as they had. I specifically asked if farmers were qualified, considering they likely purchased the herbicide from a dealer and used it at more concentrated levels. Yes, he told me. In fact, most people calling the hotline were farmers.
The intake guy explained that if I wanted to proceed, he would need to take down some information. He would need basic information like name, age, occupation. He also would need information related to the cancer diagnosis and glyphosate use. And my Social Security Number. Why? Because the firm would request my medical records for review. If they were satisfied with what they saw, my case would be referred to an attorney, who would contact me promptly.
And there would be no money needed up front. The firm would pay for any costs associated with retrieving my medical records. I would only owe the attorneys anything if I recovered on the lawsuit. He said the normal contingency fee is between 30 and 40 percent (that boggles this lawyer’s mind considering the $250 million jury award Johnson won).
I politely thanked him for his time and indicated I needed to think about it.
So the call went close to how I imagined it. I figured I would speak to an intake specialist, not an actual attorney. But I was a little surprised he was so willing to answer my questions and give me information about the lawsuit. I figured he would be a bit more demanding for information up front.
The normal contingency fee is between 30 and 40 percent (that boggles this lawyer’s mind considering the $250 million jury award Johnson won).
Though I was struck by the firm’s medical requirements for a potential client. They want simple, easy cases. The person wasn’t sick. The person used Roundup. The person became sick. No pre-existing conditions, no aggravation of other injuries, no other potential sources — a simple timeline that would make it easier to argue a direct causation. It makes sense. As a defense attorney, I know those are weaknesses in a plaintiff’s case that we try to exploit. So, if a firm gets to be super choosy about its clients, then it’s better to weed those factors out.
And working on such a contingency fee makes those conditions necessary. The firm only gets paid if they recover money for the client, which means they might never get paid. A case like this has huge expenses just to get to that point, including hiring experts at astronomical rates. So, every case is a pretty big risk. They can’t afford to have doubts about whether they can convince a jury that the glyphosate caused the cancer.
So there you have it. That’s what happens when you call the attorneys advertising for glyphosate-caused-my-cancer plaintiffs. I don’t like the lawsuits or the precedent such a claim makes, but the attorneys soliciting this business definitely know what they’re doing.
Amanda Zaluckyj blogs under the name The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Her goal is to promote farmers and tackle the misinformation swirling around the U.S. food industry.