A federal court in Colorado has dismissed the defendant’s post-trial motions for judgment as a matter of law for a new trial upholding the first consumer popcorn lung lawsuit. The court upheld a $7.5 million jury award to plaintiff, Wayne Watson, who sued the manufacturer and retailers of microwave buttered popcorn that caused him to develop bronchiolitis obliterans, or “popcorn lung”, after eating two bags daily for 10 years. Wayne Watson v. Dillion Cos., Inc. was the first case involving a consumer of microwave popcorn diagnosed with Popcorn Lung.
Diacetyl is the one of the most dangerous substances ever exposed to workers and consumers. Exposure to it can leave workers and consumers with a severe, disabling and potentially lethal lung disorder – constrictive bronchiolitis obliterans – in which the smallest airways of the lung become scarred and constricted, blocking off movement of air.
Dr. Cecile Rose, a lung specialist at the National Jewish Medical Research Center in Denver (and Wayne Watson’s doctor) told the CBS Early Show in 2007 that initially she was unsure what could have caused his ailment, but, knew it came from something he had inhaled. When Watson’s medical history turned up nothing but eating two bags of popcorn for two years, Dr. Cecile Rose took action to see that others knew of the dangers. Dr. Rose wrote a letter to federal agencies warning that an unidentified person may have developed the first case of the disease outside factory workers.
Even with warnings from Dr. Rose, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and other groups, many people are working with this substance and consumers are risking their health using products containing diacetyl in their homes on a daily basis.
According to the Colorado federal court, punitive damages were appropriate in this case because “a reasonable jury could conclude that the Defendants knew about the risk posed to consumers from diacetyl in their microwave popcorn products, and that this conduct could be construed as willful and wanton.”