A U.S. federal court jury on Wednesday awarded a man $7.2 million in damages for developing a chronic condition known as popcorn lung from a chemical used in flavoring microwave popcorn. The verdict was against Gilster Mary Lee Corp., The Kroger Co., and Dillon Companies, Inc.
Jurors agreed with the claims that the Illinois popcorn manufacturer and the supermarket chain that sold the popcorn were negligent by failing to warn on labels that the butter flavoring, diacetyl, was dangerous.
The popcorn lung condition is a form of obstructive lung disease that makes it difficult for air to flow out of the lungs and is not reversible, according to the description on WebMD.
This victim was the first consumer of microwave popcorn to be diagnosed with the disease, bronchiolitis obliterans. This disease is a rare and life-threatening form of non-reversible obstructive lung disease in which the small airways are compressed and narrowed by scar tissue and sometimes inflammation.
The victim is a 59-year-old man who was diagnosed in 2007 at Denver’s National Jewish Health, a respiratory health center, after years of inhaling the smell of artificial butter on the popcorn, which he admits to consuming twice daily for the past ten years.
In 2008, the U.S. House passed a bill to limit worker’s exposure to diacetyl.
The company says it removed the chemical diacetyl from its microwavable popcorn between 2007 and 2008.
Jurors found Gilster-Mary Lee Corp., a private-labeling manufacturer of the popcorn, liable for 80 percent of the $7,217,961 damages and the supermarket chain and its parent company liable for 20 percent.
The victim says, “I’ve lost roughly 50 percent of my lung capacity.” He used to be an active person. He also states, “We won this case because the truth was on our side.”
Similar cases are pending in federal court in Iowa and in state court in New York.
The popcorn manufacturer tried to tell jurors that the victim’s health problems were caused by his years of using dangerous chemicals as a carpet cleaner.
According to a new study published June 25, 2012 in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology, chronic exposure to diacetyl may contribute to protein clumping in the brain, which has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, as reported by the National Safety Council and also was recently published in the American Chemical Society (ACS).
A spokeswoman for the supermarket chain said the companies intend to appeal the decision.
The victim previously settled claims against the flavor developer, FONA International Inc., formerly Flavors of North America, Inc.
The victim argued that the companies failed to warn consumers that inhaling the buttery aroma could put people at risk of lung injury.
Dr. Cecile Rose, one of the victim’s physicians at National Jewish Health, and a witness for the victim, made the connection between his disease and the chemical diacetyl, when she asked him if he had been around large quantities of microwave popcorn.
Dr. Rose had been a consultant to the flavorings industry and had seen the same disease that the victim had in worker’s who were exposed to diacetyl.
The jury took one day to reach its verdict after a nine-day trial.
If the manufacturers of the microwavable popcorn were aware that the buttery aroma contained a dangerous chemical when inhaled, why would they hide it from the public? This is negligence and they must be held accountable. The public is entitled to know about any potential dangers in foods before we purchase them, especially if the manufacturer is deliberately hiding this information. It makes you wonder what ingredient they are now using in place of the diacetyl and how honest they will be about any dangers.
The victim plans on giving some of his award to charity, and says that he will not be buying microwave popcorn. Will you continue to buy microwavable butter popcorn? Feel free to comment on this blog post. For more information, contact a Gacovino & Lake attorney at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).