Man Wins $7 Million in “Popcorn Lung” Lawsuit

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?

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Peter Z.
Peter Zachos6 years ago

Mr. Steinman, a few other commenters here have already pointed it out to you, but may I reiterate that your comment:

"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."

..... is ludicrous and childishly ignorant. I understand that care2 isn't the bastion of journalistic integrity, but they should at least vet writers to make sure they have high-school equivalent research skills. Next time you want to judge someone's folly and a respective lawsuit, try reading the facts of the case (

I believe strongly this will prevent future lapses in YOUR jugement. Or, ignore this advice and continue with your poor writing.

Kristina C.
Kristina C.6 years ago

Instead of using microwave popcorn I use the EZ Popcorn Maker from Viatek. The EZ Pop allows me to pop healthy jumbo popcorn without the dangerous chemical diacetyl. What's more, the EZ pop is manufactured with FDA food grade plastic which does not contain dyes or recycled plastics deemed harmful to humans. Not only is the EZ Pop a safer alternative, but a healthier alternative. Unlike microwave popcorn bags, the EZ Pop allows you to control the amount of butter and salt you use, eliminating extra calories and harmful chemicals. I got mine at:

Kevin B.
Kevin B.6 years ago

Popcorn is not unhealthy, but the additive is, and if the manufacturer knows that it's unhealthy and does not warn it's customers, then they are certainly liable. The deal with the lady who sued McDonalds, that coffee was dangerously hot and it have her third degree burns - no different than if someone had thrown boiling water at her. She didn't sue because the coffee spilled, she sued because she was badly burned.

Beth Adams
BETH Adams6 years ago

Um, honestly, if a "food" manufacturer is using a chemical that could damage my lungs simply by preparing and consuming the "food" as directed on the label, I think a $7 million payout is just about right.

I am personally dismayed by the lax (or lack of) regulations affecting the items posing as food on our grocery shelves. I should not need to do hours of independent research on lesser-known and strangely named ingredients and additives to keep my family safe from harm.

This guy should be able to eat popcorn until it's coming out of his ears without worrying about his respiratory health. Ridiculous

Sandi C.
Sandi C6 years ago

must have had a really, really good lawyer!

Marilyn J Leger
Marilyn J. L6 years ago

About that "hot coffee" -- the woman suffered third degree burns from coffee that was far hotter than the norm.

Jacob G.
Jacob G.6 years ago

So this guys reward for eating popcorn for ten years of his life is 7 million dollars this is total crap he was the one to put his health at risk for eating two bags a day for 10 years straight give me a break who cares about his lung capacity because he probally wieghs about 400 pounds notice how there is no picture of him this is the type of thing that premotes obesity in america because now they can eat however much they want and when they get sick its the companies fault this is complete trash.

Magdalen B.
Magdalen B6 years ago


John B.
John B6 years ago

Thanks Eric for the article. I read about "popcorn lung" a little over a year ago. The maker of the product and supplier of the chemical diacetyl should,I feel, be held liable. Just wonder if diacetyl was listed as an ingredient on the packaging.

John Bellamy
John bellamy6 years ago