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What Do I Need to Know About Popcorn Lung Disease Litigation?

What Do I Need to Know About Popcorn Lung Disease Litigation?

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What Do I Need to Know About Popcorn Lung Disease Litigation?

Do you or your loved one work at a food manufacturing platform producing popcorn flavoring? If so, you may have been exposed to the chemical diacetyl, an active ingredient found in certain popcorn flavoring. Here’s everything you need to know about it. 

What Is Popcorn Lung?

As the name suggests, popcorn lung is the nickname for a condition known as bronchiolitis obliterans. This condition targets the smallest airwaves in your lungs, making it difficult for you to breathe. 

When you breathe in oxygen, it travels down your windpipe, also known as the trachea. The air then branches into two tubes, one heading to the right side of your lung and the other to the left. These tubes are called bronchi. 

The bronchi further split into smaller tubes that seem like tree branches. The tiniest of all these tubes are known as the bronchioles. 

Tiny air sacs called alveoli sit at the end of each bronchiole. The oxygen in the air sac then mixes with blood before circulation throughout the human body. 

However, when you inhale air containing the chemical diacetyl, it scars the air sacs in your lungs, narrowing them in the process. As a result, you will experience difficulty breathing. Shortly after, you’ll begin to cough, gasping for air. 

Common Causes of Popcorn Lung

As mentioned before, this condition is usually triggered by the chemical diacetyl found in the following places or products. 

Industrial Areas

Workers in some food manufacturing plants are at a high risk of suffering from popcorn lung. The risk is even higher for workers in popcorn manufacturing industries. This is because diacetyl is used to add flavor to microwavable popcorn.

Electronic Cigarettes

Some flavors used in electronic cigarettes have been found to contain diacetyl. For example, at the beginning of 2020, there were at least 2,800 hospitalizations from injuries caused by electronic cigarettes throughout the District of Columbia, the US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. In addition, at least 68 deaths were confirmed at the time. 

Earlier in 2015, a study revealed that at least 75% of flavored electronic cigarettes and refill liquids contain diacetyl, the chemical that causes popcorn lung. 

It is also important to note that popcorn lung disease is not only caused by some electronic cigarettes or popcorn. In fact, diacetyl is found in many other household items containing the following chemicals:

Hydrochloric Acid

Hydrochloric acid is usually used in industrial processes, such as dust removal. Examples of household products that contain this acid include toilet bowl and bathroom tile cleaners, fireworks, batteries, photo flashbulbs, etc.

Metal Oxide 

Welders are at a higher risk of inhaling metal oxide fumes, which contain diacetyl. This explains why individuals working in such environments must wear protective equipment. Unfortunately, some industries fail to meet certain safety standards as required by state and federal laws, exposing their workers to dangerous fumes in the process. 

Ammonia and Chlorine

Many household cleaning products contain ammonia and chlorine, which are also some of the little-known causes of popcorn lung disease. For example, some glass cleaners contain ammonia, while some disinfectants, mildew removers, and toilet bowl cleaners may contain chlorine. 

Sulfur Mustard

Sulfur mustard is a chemical weapon. Also known as mustard gas, this gas can find its way into the human body through air, skin, or eye contact. It usually breaks down slowly in the body and builds up over time, leading to severe respiratory problems like popcorn lung disease. 

Diacetyl is also found in other food products such as:

  • caramel;
  • chips and crackers;
  • some ice-creams;
  • hot cocoa;
  • frosting;
  • cookies; and
  • coffee 

Symptoms of Popcorn Lung

Some of the most common symptoms of this disease include:

  • dry cough;
  • wheezing;
  • night sweats;
  • gasping for air;
  • hardening of the lung tissue; and
  • severe skin and eye irritation. 

Popcorn Lung Treatment

Unfortunately, popcorn lung has no cure at the moment. For this reason, doctors recommend certain treatment procedures to manage the condition.

For example, your doctor may recommend prescription corticosteroids or immunosuppressive therapy. Other treatment options include the use of cough suppressants, oxygen supplementation, or bronchodilators (medication used to dilate your bronchioles, making it much easier to breathe). 

In some extreme cases, popcorn lung patients may need lung transplant to reverse the effects of this disease. 

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  • Popcorn Lung Disease Litigation Explained

    Many popcorn lung disease lawsuits are based on the theory of negligence, but this is not the only legal avenue for such lawsuits. Factory workers all over the country have received millions of dollars as compensation after being diagnosed with popcorn lung. The lawsuits allege that manufacturers failed to warn workers about the dangers of inhaling this chemical at the manufacturing plants.

    Some also failed to put measures to prevent workers from being exposed to this dangerous chemical. For example, poor ventilation or a lack of proper protective equipment are some of the many reasons linked to diacetyl exposure among workers at popcorn manufacturing plants. 

    There’s also the issue of failure to test products to evaluate the respiratory risks involved. Some lawsuits argue that someone along the production line should have been aware of the dangers of inhaling diacetyl and removed this chemical from such products. 

    Consumers at home also inhaled diacetyl for years, unknowingly. The lucky ones suffered irreversible respiratory problems while the unlucky ones lost their lives in the process. This is painful to discover, given that popcorn is one of the most common snacks in American households. 

    In 2012, a Federal court awarded a Denver man $7.2 million following a lawsuit filed against a popcorn marker and a grocery store. The lawsuit alleged that the plaintiff developed popcorn lung complications in 2007 after eating roughly two bags of popcorn daily for almost ten years. 

    Speaking about his condition, the plaintiff explained that his lungs were failing. He also added that his lungs would perform at 53% capacity on a good day and further revealed that he was exposed to diacetyl every time he inhaled the steam from the popcorn bag. 

    The lawsuit was filed against Glister-Mary Lee, a popcorn maker, Kroger, and Dillion Cos. The defense argued that Wayne Watson had been exposed to the harmful chemical while working with carpet cleaning products. However, they failed to convince the judge, who then ruled in favor of the plaintiff. 

    The Denver ruling is just one of the many lawsuits filed against companies involved in producing products that contained this chemical. Another lawsuit targeted ConAgra, a Chicago-based consumer packaged goods company.

    The plaintiff claimed that she was diagnosed with severe lung complications due to exposure to ConAgra’s microwavable popcorn. The popcorn allegedly contained diacetyl. 

    The plaintiff further claimed that the exposure to this chemical also contributed to other health complications, such as pulmonary disease, bronchiectasis, chronic obstructive bronchitis, lung impairment, and emphysema. 

    In 2004, a couple won a $20 million judgment in a workers’ compensation lawsuit against International Flavors and Boake Allen Inc. The couple worked at a popcorn manufacturing plant in Jasper County, Missouri, when they developed bronchiolitis obliterans due to constant exposure to diacetyl. According to doctors, the couple would eventually need a double-lung transplant to help manage the condition. 

  • Damages for Popcorn Lung Disease Lawsuits

    The exact damages for popcorn lung disease lawsuits vary depending on the severity of the disease and several other factors. However, in general, most lawsuits seek compensation for the following: 

    Medical Bills

    As noted earlier, the complications caused by popcorn lung disease are irreversible. As a result, the victims have to live with this condition for the rest of their lives or until a cure becomes available. Living with popcorn lung disease means spending thousands of dollars every year in treatment and medication, which is why plaintiffs seek compensation for past, current and future medical expenses. 

    Physical Pain and Suffering

    If you’ve ever suffered from any respiratory-related infection, you probably understand how painful and miserable it feels. Individuals with popcorn lung disease often struggle to breathe due to a lack of enough air supply in the lungs. As a result, they may not be able to participate in certain activities as they used to in the past. 

    Mental Hardship 

    Living with popcorn lung disease means dealing with countless sleepless nights, stress, anxiety, and depression. No one rests easy knowing that their lungs are failing gradually due to a problem that could have been prevented in the first place. For this reason, some plaintiffs seek compensation for the stress and trauma of living with popcorn lung disease, given that the condition itself is irreversible. 

    Loss of Wages

    You might be eligible for compensation if you were unable to work due to complications relating to popcorn lung disease. When calculating the wages lost, an experienced attorney considers multiple factors, such as the number of hours you missed at work when you should have been working, the financial opportunities you lost due to the condition, your future economic situation, among others. 

  • Challenges Facing Product Lung Disease Litigation

    Personal injury lawsuits are generally complex, but some are even more complex than others. For example, exposure to diacetyl could be a case of negligence and product liability. 

    However, such cases are not usually the easiest to win, even though product liability claims do not necessarily require the victim to prove negligence. This is because the legal system in most states acknowledges the fact that the plaintiff may have a rough time trying to prove negligence, which takes away from the fact that a particular product injured them. 

    For example, to prove negligence in the case of diacetyl exposure, you will have to prove that the other party knew or should have known that their actions or lack of action led to your injury. This is much more difficult to prove, especially if you have no access to the manufacturing process. And, even if you did, it is still difficult to prove negligence because you may not be familiar with the entire process of manufacturing that particular product and distributing it to consumers. 

    For this reason, most states will only require that you prove the following:

    The Existence of the Injury

    You will need to prove that you were indeed exposed to diacetyl. As discussed earlier, the exposure could be in the form of working in a high-risk environment, such as a welding plant, popcorn production site, etc. To prove this, you may need to provide your employment records, witness testimonies, and other related evidence as instructed by your product liability attorney. 

    The Defective Aspect of the Product

    In this case, you will need to prove that the product in question contained diacetyl, leading to your popcorn lung disease. This could mean hiring experts to prove the defects before a jury. 

    Cause of the Injury

    Whatever the cause, it is important that you prove why you believe the defective product is the primary reason for your injury. For example, as mentioned earlier, the defense argued that Wayne Watson had been exposed to diacetyl from carpet cleaning products, but not the popcorn manufactured by Glister-Mary Lee. Therefore, it was Watson’s responsibility to dismiss the defense’s claims with evidence. 

    The Product Was Used as Intended

    The plaintiff must also prove that they used the product as intended. For example, suppose you used an electronic cigarette as instructed by the manufacturer or in any way a reasonable person would have. In that case, you may have a claim against the manufacturer if you suffer popcorn lung disease in the process. 

  • The Bottom Line

    Popcorn lung disease lawsuits still exist even though most manufacturers have stopped using diacetyl in many of their products. So if you or your loved one has been exposed to this dangerous chemical at home, at work, or anywhere else, you may need to speak to a popcorn lung disease attorney. 

    To take your first steps toward recovery and moving on with your life after this unfortunate circumstance, you can contact the experts at Morgan & Morgan for a free, no-obligation case evaluation. Get in touch today.

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Last updated on May 31, 2023

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