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‘Popcorn’ Verdict Worth $7.27M


A Centennial, Colo., man was awarded $7.27 million in damages earlier this week from a federal jury in Denver, which decided his lung disease was caused by the chemicals in microwave popcorn and that the manufacturer should have warned him, the Denver Business Journal reports.

Wayne Watson is the first consumer to win an award against Gilster-Mary Lee Corp., a private label food manufacturer based in Chester, Ill., according to his attorneys from Humphrey, Farrington & McClain in Independence, Mo.

Kroger Co. and Dillon Cos. Inc., which does business as King Soopers Inc., also were defendants in the federal lawsuit.

Watson was diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans, or popcorn lung, in 2007 after he ate two to three bags of microwave popcorn daily for years. The disease first was recognized in workers at a popcorn factory.

He was diagnosed by Dr. Cecile Rose of National Jewish Hospital in Denver.

“The National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOSH) confirmed [it] was caused by exposure to artificial butter flavor chemicals,” according to a release from the law firm. “The NIOSH scientists concluded that the chemical diacetyl was the agent, which was causing lung diseases among the workers.”

King Soopers’ lawyers had argued, unsuccessfully, the damage to Watson’s lungs was caused by the years he spent working around dangerous chemicals while cleaning carpets, according to the Journal’s report.

“What happened here was an avoidable tragedy,” Kenneth McClain said in a release. “Gilster-Mary Lee knew its own employees in the quality control room were getting sick from popping corn. It was not a long leap to recognize that consumers were also at risk.”

The jury awarded $2.267 million in actual damages and $5 million in punitive damages, the Journal reports.

“The punitive award is very significant,” McClain said in the release. “Gilster-Mary Lee is the largest private label popcorn manufacturer in the country and the evidence was that they purposely did not warn consumers about the risk of microwave popcorn.”


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