Colorado man awarded $7.2 million in "popcorn lung" lawsuit

DENVER, Sept 19 (Reuters) - A U.S. federal court jury on

Wednesday awarded a Colorado man $7.2 million in damages for

developing a chronic condition known as popcorn lung from a

chemical used in flavoring microwave popcorn.

Jurors agreed with the claims by Wayne Watson, 59, that the

popcorn manufacturer and the supermarket chain that sold it were

negligent by failing to warn on labels that the butter

flavoring, diacetyl, was dangerous.

The condition is a form of obstructive lung disease that

makes it difficult for air to flow out of the lungs and is

irreversible, according to WebMd.

Watson, of suburban Denver, was the first consumer of

microwave popcorn diagnosed with the disease, bronchiolitis

obliterans, his attorney Kenneth McClain said.

Watson was diagnosed in 2007 at Denver's National Jewish

Health, a respiratory health center, after years of inhaling the

smell of artificial butter on the popcorn he said he ate daily.

The verdict was the latest in a line of cases in the past 15

years, starting with workers in popcorn plants where diacetyl

was an ingredient, that has linked the chemical to health

problems.

Jurors found Gilster-Mary Lee Corp, the Chester, Illinois,

private-labeling manufacturer of the popcorn, liable for 80

percent of the $7,217,961 damages and the King Soopers

supermarket chain and its parent, Kroger Co, liable for 20

percent.

An attorney for the defendants had told jurors that Watson's

health problems were from his years of using dangerous chemicals

as a carpet cleaner.

A spokeswoman for King Soopers and Kroger said the companies

intended to appeal the decision. An attorney for Gilster-Mary

Lee was not immediately available for comment.

Similar cases are pending in federal court in Iowa and in

state court in New York, the attorney said.

McClain said he has represented microwave popcorn and

flavoring workers across the United States who began suing in

2004 and have been awarded large damages.

He said Dr. Cecile Rose, a witness for Watson and one of his

physicians at National Jewish Health, made the connection

between his disease and diacetyl when she asked him if he had

been around large quantities of microwave popcorn.

She had been a consultant to the flavorings industry and had

seen the same disease that Watson had among workers exposed to

the chemical.

The jury took a day to reach its verdict after a nine-day

trial.

(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Prudence Crowther)