A federal court in Colorado has dismissed the defendant’s post-trial motions for judgement as a matter of law for a new trial thus upholding 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 “popcorn lung” after eating two bags daily for 10 years. Wayne Watson v. Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation was the first consumer of microwave popcorn diagnosed with Popcorn Lung.
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 ten 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.”