Popcorn Lawsuit Verdict

Here are my comments on the “popcorn lung” verdict: When a Colorado jury awarded $7.2 million to a man who claimed he was injured by a chemical used in the butter flavoring of microwave popcorn, many people reacted with disbelief. Apparently, a significant portion of the public presumes that something as commonplace as microwave popcorn cannot cause a serious injury, so they ridicule the verdict with no knowledge of the facts. What they don’t realize is that the popcorn manufacturers have known of the hazards of diacetyl for years. The effects of diacetyl, including the chronic and irreversible disease of bronchiolitis obliterans, were clearly documented among the employees in the plants where the popcorn was manufactured. The damage that this chemical causes to the lungs can be very serious and can incapacitate its victims. It was only a matter of time until some consumers started to see the same injuries. The course of litigation in diacetyl is following the same course that we saw in asbestos litigation. The first recognized cases of asbestos disease occurred in plant workers where the concentrations were the highest, and the exposure was the most extreme. It took more time to realize that those same asbestos plant workers carried measurable amounts of asbestos dust home in their clothes, and over time, the asbestos dust in the workers’ homes caused their families to develop the same asbestos diseases that occurred much quicker in the factory workers. In the cases of workers who are exposed to toxic dusts at high levels, it is easy to prove the link between exposure and the disease, because there is a close temporal relationship. We can accept the fact that if several healthy men start work in a popcorn plant, where they are exposed to visible dust levels, and shortly thereafter they all develop the same unusual lung disease, that the chemicals in the dust must have caused the disease. But if we accept that a plant worker can develop lung disease caused by diacetyl, we must also accept that consumers who are exposed at lower levels, but over longer periods of time, can develop the same lung disease. Scientifically speaking, most toxic exposure cases depend on the total dosage of exposure. A short period of heavy exposure is often equivalent to a long period of light exposure. Thus, it is entirely plausible that a long-time consumer of buttered microwave popcorn would start to develop the same irreversible lung damage that has been seen in plant workers. The Colorado jury — after hearing nine days of testimony, including scientific experts from both sides — decided that it was not only plausible, the jury decided that the diacetyl was, more likely than not, the cause of the injury. Powers Taylor LLP represents victims of toxic exposure, unsafe drugs, and dangerous products, but Powers Taylor LLP was not involved in the Colorado case discussed in this article.


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