$7 Million Verdict in Popcorn Lung Lawsuit

Popcorn lung disease lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report that a Colorado man with severely damaged lungs recently won a case against several food companies that he believes exposed him to a harmful substance. Diacetyl is a chemical used in microwave popcorn butter flavoring, and is responsible for a national outbreak of a rare respiratory illness.

The disease is known to affect workers in the microwave popcorn industry, who often inhale diacetyl during manufacturing processes. This was first discovered in 2000, when eight workers at the Glister-Mary Lee popcorn factory were diagnosed with the lung disease. After investigations by the CDC at the plant, at least 30 employees were identified as having severe breathing problems, nearly all of whom may need full lung transplants in the future. All eight employees inflicted with the disease worked in the mixing or packaging areas, where salt, soybean oil and chemical flavorings are blended into a tank to be poured on the popcorn.

At first believed to be only a job-related health risk, consumers should now be aware that members of the general public are being harmed by diacetyl. The Colorado man, Wayne Watson, argued that both the popcorn’s manufacturer and the supermarket he bought it at failed to warn consumers about the risks of lung injury. He claimed he developed life-altering lung problems after eating about two bags of popcorn per day for ten years.

Unfortunately, fixed obstructive lung disease is irreversible and often fatal. It affects the respiratory passageways that feed into the lungs, narrowing them over time like clogged arteries to the heart get clogged with excessive fat and salt intake. Just as clogged arteries can induce stroke and heart failure, clogged respiratory airways causes severely decreased lung capacity and eventually death.

Diacetyl occurs naturally in foods like butter, coffee, and cheese, and is used in many foods that have artificial butter flavoring, such as commercial baked goods. The chemical is harmless when it occurs naturally, however, when it is extracted and manually mixed, it releases into the air in high concentrations. This is extraordinarily dangerous, and has contributed to hundreds of premature deaths throughout the country.

Chronic coughs, attacks of wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, asthma, and chronic bronchitis are all signs of the disease, and can often be misdiagnosed as other ailments like pneumonia or hay fever. Watson first noticed these symptoms while at church choir practice, when he could not hold notes for as long as he used to. His doctor could not determine what exactly the cause was, but it was clearly something he was inhaling. Seemingly out of the blue, she asked him if he ate a lot of microwave popcorn, which took him completely aback. He didn’t know how she could possibly know that about him.

Watson’s is believed to be the first case of popcorn lung disease outside of factory workers. In 2004, a jury awarded a Missouri man $20 million in damages after he was diagnosed with the illness. He was a worker at Glister-Mary Lee.

Watson named Glister-Mary Lee and the parent companies of King Scooper’s Supermarket as defendants in his case. The jury assigned 80% blame to Glister and the other 20% to the supermarket’s parent companies. He ultimately received a total of $7.2 million.

Employees around the country are occupationally exposed to dangerous chemicals every day, most of which have never been tested in humans. Pertinent examples of this type of industrial exposure include asbestos – which causes a rare type of lung cancer – and lead, which can be fatal as well.

Toxic substance attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm have extensive experience working with victims exposed to hazardous chemicals. If you or someone you love was exposed to diacetyl, or any other toxic substance, and developed a serious illness, you may be entitled to compensation.