Man wins $7.2 million over claim that popcorn made him sick

Of all the consumer products in the typical American house, one that few people would pinpoint as being potentially hazardous is popcorn — as a choking hazard maybe, but not as something that could induce illness. But that’s just what a man in Colorado claimed — and a jury agreed with him. He was awarded more than $7 million this week in a business litigation case against the maker of the popcorn and the store that sold him the snack, which he consumed at the rate of two bags every day for a decade.

The suit that was just settled did not involve the company that made the ingredient that caused the man to get sick. The culprit is an artificial butter flavoring known as diacetyl, and it is no longer used in the manufacturing of microwave popcorn. The danger is when the popcorn coated with the chemical is inhaled: it damages the lungs and reduces lung capacity. The illness is actually known as “popcorn lung” and the man who filed the suit says his lung capacity is no better than 53 percent at best.

The company that made the chemical reached an agreement with the man in an earlier settlement, the terms of which were not disclosed. A federal jury awarded the $7.2 million verdict; it would seem likely that the companies on the hook for that amount — the popcorn maker and the store — will appeal the verdict, but that will come at a later date.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “‘Popcorn lung’ lawsuit: Denver man gets $7.2-million verdict,” Rene Lynch, Sept. 20, 2012