A $7.2 million judgment was awarded to a man stricken with “popcorn lung,” a potentially fatal disease of the respiratory system, also known as bornchiolitis obliterans.
Essentially, this man consumed one to two bags of microwave popcorn per day, and was reportedly exposed to a chemical called diacetyl, which is used to create the butter flavor. It can also cause serious respiratory issues.
Our product liability lawyers know, historically, the majority of these cases have been brought by employees of popcorn manufacturers. This is believed to be one of the first awards of its kind involving a consumer and could signal more legal heat is ahead for the popcorn industry.
The man had sued both the manufacturer and the seller of the popcorn.
Back in 2000, eight workers at a Missouri popcorn manufacturing plant were diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans, an otherwise rare lung disease. The state Department of Health was called in to research what was happening. Inspectors traced it back to the diacetyl, and recommended all workers at popcorn manufacturers wear respirators.
Although it remains a legal product not banned by the Food and Drug Administration, many companies in 2007 began replacing the diacetyl with other flavoring elements. Those companies include Orville Redenbacher, Pop Secret, Act II and Jolly Time. However, the ingredient that many companies began using, called 2,3-pentandione (referred to as “PD”), may not be any safer. Unfortunately, a number of studies, including one in The American Journal of Pathology, have indicated that these chemicals may be just as dangerous as diacetyl.
Scientist exploring the effects of PD on rats found that those exposed to the chemical showed damage to airway linings in the nose and lungs – similar to what you would see with extensive diacetyl exposure.
Bronchiolitis obliterans is often misdiagnosed as emphysema, bronchitis or asthma. It can appear either gradually or suddenly, and is characterized by a dry cough, shortness of breath and wheezing. It essentially reduced a persons’ breathing capacity from a normal 80 percent range down to a range of 15 to 20 percent.
Workers in other industries have also reported being exposed to chemicals that caused the disease. Those industries include: Nylon, textile sprays and battery manufacturing.
Popcorn plant employees had for years been victorious in court with these claims, with more than 600 filed in all. About $50 million was awarded in jury trial verdicts. Many more of those cases were settled out of court.
Manufacturers had previously said consumers should be safe, so long as they follow packaging directions to open the bags away from the face. Apparently, though, this is not eliminating the risk.
A similar case has already been filed against Con-Agra, and we expect more in the near future. Both companies in the most recent case say they plan appeal the verdict.
The Ferraro Law Firm handles medical malpractice claims as a result of defective medical products or dangerous pharmaceuticals. Call 1-800-275-3332 for a free and confidential consultation. Offices in Miami, Washington, D.C., and New York City.
‘Popcorn Lung’ Verdict Could Spark Rash of Lawsuits, Sept. 20, 2012, By Jeff Cox, CNBC
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