Wayne Watson from Denver, Colorado, has been awarded $7.2 million in damages after developing a condition known as “popcorn lung.” He got the disease from the flavoring chemicals in microwave popcorn.
Watson claimed that the downstate Illinois popcorn maker and the supermarket that sold the popcorn had been negligent in not warning on the popcorn labels that the butter flavoring, diacetyl, was dangerous.
Popcorn lung is the common name for bronchiolitis obliterans. The disease makes it difficult to get air out of the lungs. It is an incurable condition.
Mr. Watson was the first person to be diagnosed with the disease after eating microwave popcorn. Many others have since been identified and the case could make the companies involved liable for many millions of dollars in damages.
It was Denver's respiratory center, National Jewish Health, where he was diagnosed. Doctors made the connection between Mr. Watson's inhalation of the smell of artificial butter from the microwave popcorn he ate every day and his lung condition.
It was already known that workers from popcorn factories exposed to diacetyl had developed health problems. This, it is claimed, was enough for the popcorn manufacturers and retailers to label the popcorn packets with warnings of possible health problems or to stop using the chemical.
It took the jurors just one day to come to a guilty verdict after the nine-day trial. They found Gilster-Mary Lee Corp., the Chester, Ill., private-labeling manufacturer of the popcorn, liable for 80 percent of the $7,217,961 damages, and the King Soopers supermarket chain and its parent, Kroger Co, liable for 20 percent.
King Soopers and Kroger have already indicated that they will lodge an appeal against the decision. It is not known what Gilster-Mary Lee's position is.