On September 19, 2012 a Colorado federal jury awarded plaintiff $7.2 million for injuries he sustained as a result of inhaling the artificial butter fumes from microwave popcorn.
In Wayne v. Dillon Companies, Inc., plaintiff filed suit against various food manufacturers and retailers, including Dillon Companies, Inter-American Products Inc., Kroger Co., and Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation, alleging he developed a respiratory illness as a result of inhaling the chemical diacetyl, found in artificial butter in microwave popcorn. Plaintiff is the first consumer diagnosed with “popcorn lung” (bronchiolitis obliterans), which is more commonly found in factory employees who have long-term exposure to diacetyl as a result of their work in the manufacturing process. Diacetyl was used in the butter flavoring of microwave popcorn until it was removed in approximately 2007.
Plaintiff, who consumed microwave popcorn approximately twice a day for 10 years until his diagnosis in 2007, argued that defendants failed to warn that inhaling the artificial butter flavoring can cause lung injuries. Defendants argued that Plaintiff’s health problems were not a result of his consumption or inhalation of the microwave popcorn, but rather from his many years working with carpet-cleaning chemicals. Further, defendants presented evidence which illustrated that millions of consumers have safely used the microwave popcorn since it was introduced.
The jury found the manufacturer of the popcorn, Gilster-Mary Lee, 80 percent liable and the retailers, Dillion Foods and Kroger, divided the remaining 20 percent. Several other defendants settled claims with plaintiff prior to the verdict. Defendants, Glister-Mary Lee Corporation, Kroger Co., and Dillon Companies are expected to appeal the decision.
Plaintiff is the first to consumer to be awarded damages for his “popcorn lung” injuries. Prior to Watson, diacetyl cases were only brought by factory workers who worked in the manufacturing process of buttered popcorn for extended periods of time. Diacetyl-exposure lawsuits date back to 2001 when plant workers began filing suit alleging they contracted lung disease as a result of inhaling diacetyl contained in artificial butter flavoring during the manufacturing process. Since then, there has not been a consistent trend in verdicts, with juries rendering verdicts in favor of both plaintiffs and defendants.