Man Awarded $814,500 in Popcorn Lung Lawsuit

A Baltimore man was just awarded $814,500 in Baltimore County Circuit Court following allegations that he developed <"">popcorn lung after breathing in a chemical used to give food a buttery flavor.

Popcorn Lung, known formally as Bronchiolitis obliterans, is a potentially life-threatening, irreversible ailment, for which the only cure is a lung transplant. Popcorn Lung inflames the bronchioles—small lung airways—causing scarring and “obliterating” appropriate airflow. The condition received its nickname in 2007 when it was found to be occurring in popcorn plant workers.

The Baltimore Sun said that a jury awarded Brian Hallock $5.4 million in April from the New Jersey chemical maker and distributor, Polarome International Inc. Last week, a judge said she would reduce the amount because of Maryland’s cap on noneconomic damages. Hallock’s attorney is challenging the cap.

According to the lawsuit, Hallock was first exposed to the chemical diacetyl in 1981 as part of his employment with McCormick & Company, where he made food flavorings and products, said the Baltimore Sun. McCormick was not named in the action. Hallock was tested in 2006 for bronchiolitis obliterans; his physicians advised him that he had the disease. Hallock suffers from what the Baltimore Sun described as “severely depleted lung capacity.” Hallock is in his 50s and intends to retire within five years.

In 2003 and 2004, the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health found a link between diacetyl and Popcorn Lung among hundreds of workers at six Midwestern popcorn factories. In April 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that food flavoring factory and popcorn plant workers were at risk for the disease. Since the link between the disease and diacetyl has been established, hundreds of food industry workers have filed Popcorn Lung lawsuits.

This case follows a series of cases discovered at a microwave popcorn plant located in Jasper, Missouri, noted the Baltimore Sun. State health officials there advised the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and a link was made between the chemical and the disease wrote the Baltimore Sun, citing director of the division of respiratory disease studies, Dr. David Weissman.

The discovery that diacetyl creates a threat with exposure to large does followed, regardless of how it is produced, which can occur naturally in fermenting bacteria, as well as chemically, said the Baltimore Sun. Federal regulations have not been finalized, but, said Weissman, a team is working on the matter and regulations are expected later this year, said the Baltimore Sun. The agency has issued an alert about diacetyl, California implemented regulations, and one industry trade group warned plants about diacetyl’s dangers, said the Baltimore Sun.

We recently wrote that a man who worked at a Flavorchem Corp. plant in the Chicago area was awarded $30 million in a Popcorn Lung lawsuit. According to a report in the Joplin Globe, the verdict is the largest rendered, to date, in a lawsuit involving diacetyl.

Prior to this verdict, the largest judgment awarded to a Popcorn Lung victim was $20 million. That verdict was granted in 2004 to a man who worked at the former Jasper Popcorn Co. plant and his wife.

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