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'Popcorn Lung' Leads to $7 Million Verdict

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By Deanne Katz, Esq. on September 24, 2012 9:48 AM

Everyone knows that popcorn kernels can get stuck in your teeth but Wayne Watson learned the hard way that exposure to artificial butter can lead to popcorn lung. A jury verdict in his favor will hopefully alert customers to the potential negative health effects of butter flavoring.

Watson developed respiratory problems in 2007. Doctors diagnosed him with 'popcorn lung,' a disease that is more commonly seen in popcorn plant workers, according to TIME.

Defense attorneys argued that the disease wasn't caused by popcorn. The jury wasn't convinced.

Watson worked with carpet-cleaning chemicals in his work and attorneys argued that had caused his respiratory problems. But the jury disagreed and awarded him $7.2 million for his injuries.

'Popcorn lung' has been diagnosed in plant workers employed in popcorn factories and previous claimants have won or settled lawsuits about resulting health issues. The problem is a chemical called diacetyl which gives popcorn a buttery flavor.

Diacetyl can damage the lungs but popcorn bags were never labeled with a warning for consumers. Manufacturer's presumed no one would eat enough to be affected, Watson told ABC News.

Watson was able to replicate working in a popcorn factory by eating two bags of microwaved kernels a day for 10 years. He stopped eating the bagged stuff in 2007.

His claim was that the company had never warned consumers of the danger of diacetyl. The jury agreed with his argument.

Manufacturers have a duty to warn consumers about potential dangers in a product. Risk of injury in the use or consumption of something must be pointed out as soon as it's known. Failure to do so can result in product liability for the manufacturer.

Not all products are as safe as they seem and improper labeling can lead to injury. If you've been affected by a product you thought was safe but it turns out wasn't, talk to a lawyer about whether a lawsuit is the right choice.

When a product is found to be more dangerous than its label suggests, companies generally recall the mislabeled product and begin producing it either with an updated label or without the harmful materials. But any injuries that happen can still be the company's responsibility.

Most popcorn makers no longer use diacetyl in their products but that doesn't protect them if they knew the product was harmful before they pulled it from the shelves.

Watson previously settled his suit against the flavor developer, reports ABC News. He plans to donate some of the money from the verdict to charity.

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