First Popcorn Lung Disease Case Won By Consumer

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Sep 20, 2012

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Microwave PopcornWayne Watson, a man who ate two bags of microwave popcorn every day for years and developed a rare lung disease called “popcorn lung,” was awarded $7 million in damages yesterday by a Colorado jury after a day and a half of deliberations. The jury found the popcorn manufacturer, Glister-Mary Lee, 80% responsible for Watson’s damages and the parent companies of the two supermarkets that sold Watson the popcorn 20% liable.

Popcorn lung is characterized by wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath with mild exertion and has been found to be a major cause of lung disease amongst microwave popcorn factory workers who inhale diacetyl during the course of their job, a chemical that is used to make the buttery flavor and smell in microwave popcorn. Popcorn lung (bronchiolitis obliterans) is a type of obstructive lung disease which affects the bronchioles, the smallest passages in the lungs. The bronchioles become scarred to the point where air can no longer move through them, leading to constricted breathing. The disease can be very serious and the only known cure is a lung transplant.

Workers have successfully sued companies such as Glister-Mary Lee for lung damage and there are many pending cases against the manufacturers and distributors of microwave popcorn by consumers. Yet this is the first successful case involving popcorn lung brought by a consumer. Starting in 2007, popcorn manufacturers began replacing diacetyl with other ingredients to mimic the butter smell and flavor. Nonetheless, people who have developed lung problems as a result of consuming the popcorn prior to 2007 may have a case against the popcorn manufacturers and many more cases are now expected to surface as a result of Watson’s successful verdict.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a special page devoted to flavorings-related lung disease in workers, along with disease reporting and evaluation information.

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