- John McKivison is a blue collar groundskeeper and warehouse worker in Penn.
- He was diagnosed with rare blood cancer in August 2020 due to weed killer
- READ MORE: Groundskeeper wins $2B in case that said Roundup caused cancer
After decades of working blue collar jobs, John McKivison’s life has changed immeasurably in the past four years.
The 49-year-old was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer during the first year of Covid — and now he is set to receive the biggest damages payout in US history.
A court in Philadelphia ruled last week that his disease was caused by a decade of using Roundup weed killer while working as a groundskeeper for a logistics company in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, where he lives.
The jury ruled that German consumer goods giant Bayer should pay $2.25 billion – $250 million to compensate McKivison and $2 billion in punitive damages.
Bayer has pledged to appeal the verdict, which would shield the firm from having to pay that money. If the payout were to go ahead, it would be the largest in litigation of this kind.
Some 40,000 Americans have brought lawsuits against the firms, most of whom alledge the weed killer caused their cancer, but only four cases have made it to trial.
Legal experts say it is unlikely Mr McKivison will get the cash.
John McKivison, 49, is set to be awarded the largest Roundup payout so far – $2.25 billion, according to a court verdict
Mr McKivison, pictured in blue, worked at a warehousing facility for a local papermill where he used roundup for about eight years
Over the years, Bayer has paid out more than $10billion in settlements to cancer patients and their estates who have sued over its weed killer’s link to cancer and accused the company of failing to warn customers of the risk.
Four cancer patients made it to trial – Dewayne Johnson, Edwin Hardeman and Alva and Alberta Pilliod – and were awarded a collective $132 million after juries sided with them.
The original payouts decided by juries amounting to billions of dollars were eventually lowered after judges deemed the sums excessive.
Bayer has vowed to appeal verdicts that compell the company to pay millions to sick consumers – meaning winners of the suits may not see the financial restitution come for years, if ever.
The verdict in Mr McKivison’s favor marked one of the biggest payouts in a consumer injury suit.
They agreed that Bayer and Monsanto – the co-makers of the product – were negligent in safety assessments of ingredients in Roundup, and failed to warn consumers about the risk of using it.
Court documents seen exclusively by DailyMail.com reveal that Mr McKivison was exposed at his job as a groundskeeper at a warehouse for a local papermill near his home in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania.
There, he was tasked with loading and unloading paper cartons in addition to being the company’s groundskeeper.
Mr McKivison stated in his deposition that he often wore short-sleeve shirts while he sprayed the area with a concentrated version of Roundup.
He also did not consistently wear a mask or gloves, because he did not know such protective equipment was necessary.
He wore gloves ‘mostly to keep myself clean. When you’re working around the tractor, there is a lot of grease, stuff like that.’
He began feeling unwell in 2015 and was hospitalized for three days. Doctors had not found cancer back then, but diagnosed him with vertigo before being sent home.
It was not until the summer of 2020 that doctors tested him for cancer.
In July that year, they performed a bone marrow biopsy, a procedure in which doctors insert a thin needle in to bone and suction out a small core of bone marrow – where blood cells are made.
The sample is then examined under a microscope to analyze the health of blood cells.
The next month, doctors confirmed that Mr McKivison had a rare type of blood cancer called marginal zone lymphoma, which sickens about 1,000 to 2,300 Americans every year.
The disease is caused by the abnormal growth of B lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell.
Marginal zone lymphomas tend to grow slowly but they respond well to treatments including chemotherapy and antibody infusions.
The survival rates are high – between 77 and 88 percent of patients are alive after five years, according to data.
The status of Mr McKivison’s health is not known.
Roundup’s ingredients include several carcinogens including glyphosate
Two key ingredients of Roundup, glyphosate and polyethoxylated tallowamine (POEA), work together to make the product carcinogenic. Scientists have known since at least 1991 that pesticides with glyphosate and other chemicals are more harmful than glyphosate alone.
Subsequent studies, including one from 2004, found that Roundup triggered two tell-tale signs of tumour growth, including causing cells to develop abnormally.
POEA increases the amount of time that the chemicals in Roundup stay on the skin.
The skin becomes irritated, allowing for easier passage of toxins across blood vessel walls.
It is thought that, from there, the chemicals can seep into the bone and infiltrate the bone marrow, affecting the production of blood cells.
Whether glyphosate is a true carcinogen has been up for debate. The World Health Organization’s cancer agency published a report in 2015 classifying the ingredient as a possible carcinogen.
The US Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, maintained ‘there are no risks of concern to human health’ and that glyphosate is ‘unlikely to be a human carcinogen.’
POEA is known to be toxic to freshwater fish and, according to expert toxicologist Dr William Sawyer who testified in the case, is 40 times more toxic than glyphosate.
Roundup also contains formaldehyde and ethylene oxide, both known carcinogens.
The verdict found that Monsanto was negligent in its duty to ensure that the products it manufactured, marketed, advertised, and distributed were definitely safe, and further failed to warn customers of the different risks.
The jury ruled that the company’s failures resulted in Mr McKivison’s cancer, which could have been avoided if he were properly warned.
The sky-high sum that could be awarded to Mr McKivison marks a major reckoning for Bayer and Monsanto.
Mr McKivison’s lawyers note, in court documents, that the case marks ’50 years of neglect’ and indicates that the companies need to undergo top to bottom changes in staffing to finally remedy longstanding safety and product testing issues for good.
The appeals process could take several months or over a year, meaning it could be at least a year – or longer – until Mr McKivison sees a cent, should the appeal fail.
The case was heard in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, which is the state’s trial court system.
The intitution has been accused of being overwhelmingly in favor of plaintiffs alleging misconduct by major corporations, resulting in massive payouts to individuals like Mr McKivison.
For instance in December 2022, the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas awarded a mesothelioma plaintiff who alleged he was exposed to asbestos contained in gaskets and packing materials $25 million in damages.
The court has been dubbed by some as a ‘judicial hellhole’ and a ‘hotbed for out-of-state plaintiffs’ mass torts claims’.
This is just one of many legal reckonings Bayer has had to face over charges that its product has caused cancer in its users.
In 2019, San Francisco appeals court upheld a 2019 decision granting a massive $86 million sum to Alva and Alberta Pilliod of Livermore, who sued Bayer claiming that they were diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma as a direct result of 30 years using the glyphosate-based lawn treatment.
And in 2018, terminally ill Dewayne Johnson, 46 at the time, won $289 million in a landmark verdict after a jury found that the weedkiller Roundup played a large role in the development of his lymphoma.
That sum was later reduced to about $78 million after the trial.