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article imageMan awarded millions in 'Popcorn Lung' lawsuit

By Leigh Goessl     Sep 21, 2012 in Health
Denver - A Colorado man who had developed a condition known as "popcorn lung" has been awarded a multi-million dollar settlement. He said his condition resulted from the chemicals used in microwave popcorn that give it a buttery taste and aroma.
According to Reuters (courtesy of Huffington Post), this week a U.S. federal court jury awarded Wayne Watson, of Denver, $7.2 million in damages. The trial lasted nine days and the jury deliberated for one day.
Watson, 59, said he became chronically ill with a condition known as popcorn lung (bronchiolitis obliterans) after inhaling the smell of the artificial butter used on microwave popcorn.
He is the first consumer to be given this type of settlement. According to ABC News, Watson said he ate about two bags of popcorn a day for approximately 10 years.
The jury agreed with the plaintiff that the grocery store that sold the popcorn, and the company that manufactured the popcorn, were negligent in this case because warning labels advising consumers about the dangers of the "butter" additive used on the popcorn were not on the packages of popcorn. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has addressed the hazards associated with diacetyl, the artificial "buttery" ingredient used in microwave popcorn, for employers and employees working in facilities with the chemical.
Diacetyl had also been linked to Alzheimer's recently, as reported by Digital Journal.
The grocery, King Soopers, and its parent, Kroger Co., were found liable by the jury for 20 percent. Illinois-based Gilster-Mary Lee Corp., the manufacturer, was found 80 percent liable in the case. Los Angeles Times reported (via Associated Press) that a claim against flavor developer FONA International Inc. settled separately.
The defendants' attorneys argued that Watson's condition was from the result of his job as a carpet cleaner, however the jury's verdict was in favor of the plaintiff. Reportedly, the grocers involved allegedly plan to appeal the case.
The Los Angeles Times (via CBS Denver) reported Gilster-Mary Lee issued a statement after the verdict was issued.
"We are certainly very disappointed by the decision of the jury in this case in light of the very clear evidence which was presented, including the millions of consumers who have safely used and enjoyed microwave popcorn since it was introduced. We are currently evaluating our next steps in this matter and will assert all rights available to us under the law."
Reuters also reported there are other similar consumer cases pending in Iowa and New York. However, the report noted employees of businesses that make microwave popcorn have been suing since 2004 and many have been awarded large damages.
“I probably look like a fairly healthy guy but I only have, on a good day, about 53 percent lung capacity,” Watson told ABC News. “They thought that no consumer would ever be exposed to enough of it to make a difference, well they rolled the dice and they lose."
ABC News noted in its report that many microwave popcorn manufacturers no longer use diacetyl.
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