Hot coffee! When most of us hear those two words together we think something like, “morning” or “fuel for the day,” not a multi-million dollar payout. But back in 1994 a New Mexico woman spilled a 49-cent cup of McDonalds coffee in her lap after going through a drive-thru, and then successfully sued the McDonald’s corporation in a landmark lawsuit and received somewhere around 3 million dollars in punitive damages (a hell of a return on a few cents). Tort reformers cried foul and critics said that this would pave the way for countless frivolous lawsuits, making corporate liability an increasingly difficult thing to define.
As a continuation of such lawsuits, but possibly on with a more frivolous stride, is news that a Denver man just took home a $7.2 million payout in a lawsuit he filed against a popcorn maker and the supermarket that sold him the popcorn repeatedly for a decade. According to an ABC News report, furniture salesman Wayne Watson developed known as “popcorn lung” in 2007 after eating about two bags of popcorn every day for 10 years. The problem was not the popcorn, but the chemical additive, named diacetyl, used to give the microwave popcorn that chemical, buttery flavor. Seems that when diacetyl becomes airborne (like the moment when one opens the steaming popcorn bag and habitually whiffs the poppy, chemically goodness) it tends to go right to your lungs with toxic badness.
Now this case is quite a bit different than carelessly spilling 12-ounces of hot coffee in your lap and then blaming the company for your lapse in judgment. This is about a chemical additive, that when consumed repeatedly can do serious damage to one’s lungs (reportedly Watson only has a remaining 50% lung capacity) but eating two bags of microwave popcorn every day for 10 years? One may want to evaluate their eating habits. I do agree that the popcorn company, who seemingly allowed this known caustic ingredient in their product, should be held responsible, maybe on a class-action level. But I am not so sure a $7 million payout to an individual that habitually consumed said product is really a good thing.
Should the notion of moderation in this case be stressed over liability, or should popcorn companies and the supermarkets that sell their products be held accountable? Does a payout like this exact justice, or just make for a more litigious society?