Last Wednesday, a jury awarded a Colorado man $7.2 million in damages for developing a chronic condition known as popcorn lung from a chemical used in flavoring microwave popcorn. Wayne Watson, a 59-year-old native from Denver, filed suit in a U.S. District Court. Mr. Watson proved that the downstate Illinois popcorn manufacturer and the supermarket chain that sold it were negligent by failing to warn that the butter flavoring, diacetyl, was dangerous.
Popcorn lung is a form of obstructive lung disease. This condition makes it difficult for air to flow out of the lungs and is irreversible. Mr. Watson is the first consumer of microwave popcorn to be diagnosed with popcorn lung. After years of inhaling the smell of artificial butter on the popcorn he ate daily, Mr. Watson was diagnosed in 2007 with popcorn lung.
This is not the first case that diacetyl has been implicated as a dangerous ingredient. Over the past 15 years, workers in popcorn plants have successfully plead and proved that diacetyl was a dangerous substance linked to health problems. In this case, jurors found Gilster-Mary Lee Corp., the popcorn manufacturer, liable for 80% of the damages, and King Soopers, a Kroger Co. affiliate, liable for 20% of the damages.
The defendants unsuccessfully argued that Mr. Watson’s health problems were from his years of using dangerous chemicals as a carpet cleaner. However, one of Mr. Watson’s witnesses, Dr. Cecile Rose, made the connection between Mr. Watson’s disease and diacetyl. Dr. Rose was led to this conclusion after serving as a consultant to the flavorings industry and had seen the same disease among workers exposed to diacetyl. After a nine day trial, the jury took only a day to reach its verdict.