A Colorado man has won $7million after suing a Denver supermarket chain and food manufacturer on the grounds that their microwave popcorn gave him a chronic lung condition known as ‘popcorn lung’.
Wayne Watson, 59, from Centennial, was diagnosed with respiratory issues in 2007 and was told by doctors that someone who ate as much microwave popcorn as he did might well be in danger of inhaling hazardous vapours from the butter flavouring, diacetyl.
During the trial that began September 4, Mr Watson and his attorney argued that the supermarket that supported his self-confessed three-bag-a-day popcorn habit, should have provided a health warning on the packaging.
‘Who would ever reasonably think that popping popcorn in your own home, no matter how its packaged or processed would all of a sudden turn into an agent for toxic lung disease,’ said Watson.
Talking about his love of popcorn before he became sick and unable to walk long distances over four years ago and originally filed his suit, Watson was enthusiastic.
‘You would get that woof! That little woof when you opened it,’ said Watson.
‘And you breathe it in.’
Indeed, it is that breathing action that Watson claims is the cause of his current illness and is the reason why he is suing King Soopers.
Watson alleges that the butter flavouring in the microwave popcorn contains chemicals that vaporise when heated, and that inhaling this causes the severe damage to the respiratory system.
He accuses the defendants of making and selling an unsafe product and of failing to warn consumers about the alleged dangers.
Watson’s doctor at National JEwish Hospital in Denver is a key witness in the case for his legal team.
‘(I asked) was he exposed to or was he around a lot of popcorn? And his jaw dropped and he asked me how I would possibly know that about him,’ Dr. Ceclie Rose said to CBS 4.
Countering his claim, lawyers for King Soopers contend that it was in fact Watson’s career selling carpet cleaning fluid that led to his lung condition and not the microwaveable popcorn.
They even stated that Watson has misled the court on his daily consumption of popcorn.
In 2009, Ronald Kuiper, a 69-year-old retired butter flavour mixer was awarded a $7.5 million settlement just prior to dying of heart and lung failure in March of that year.
Kuiper worked at the American Pop Corn Co., in the 1990s, mixing artificial flavoring for ‘butter flavor’ products. In 2006 he was diagnosed with a condition called ‘popcorn lung’ , after working at the plant for 26 years.