EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 20, 2012

Ailing popcorn consumer wins $7.3 million verdict

CNHI News Service
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — JOPLIN, Mo. -- A Colorado man became the first consumer diagnosed with a rare lung disease to prevail in a major lawsuit against a maker of microwave popcorn.

The $7.3 million verdict came against the corporate owners of a popcorn plant in Jasper, Mo., and two grocery chains.

Wayne Watson, 59, of Centennial, Colo., won the verdict against Gilster-Mary Lee Corp. and The Kroger Co. and its subsidiaries.

Ken McClain, the plaintiff’s attorney, said his client was diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans in 2007. He argued at trial that Watson contracted the disease through exposure to chemicals associated with artificial butter flavoring in microwave popcorn.

“He ate two to three bags a day, one in the morning, one in the evening, and sometimes, if his wife was there, he would pop one in for her,” McClain said.

McClain said the primary moment of exposure for his client came when he would open the bags after popping them in the microwave.

The attorney said the brands that his client preferred to buy, Kroger Movie Theater Butter and First Choice Extra Butter, were made at the Jasper (Mo.) Popcorn Co. plant.

The disease was first recognized in workers at the plant owned by Gilster-Mary Lee. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health subsequently confirmed its cause to be exposure to the chemical diacetyl contained in butter flavoring.

The lung disease is potentially fatal and can lead to the necessity of lung transplants in sufferers.

Workers with the disease began suing the manufacturers of the butter flavoring about nine years ago and have won verdicts in several states.

Details for this story were provided by The Joplin (Mo.) Globe.