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Eighth Circuit Throws Out ‘Popcorn Lung’ Suit

(CN) - The Eighth Circuit denied a new trial to a man who claims inhaling the aroma of microwave popcorn every day for 20 years gave him lung disease.

"[David] Stults ate a lot of popcorn," the March 4 judgment begins. "For approximately twenty years, he practiced 'a ritual of slowly opening the freshly-popped bag as he breathed the aroma in through his nose' one to three times per day."

He claims his popcorn habit gave him the lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans, a condition that causes inflammation and scarring in the airways of the lung, resulting in severe shortness of breath and dry cough.

The chemical diacetyl, made by International Flavors & Fragrances and used as a butter flavoring for microwave popcorn by ConAgra and General Mills, has been shown to cause lung disease in workers at a popcorn factory.

Medical doctors agree that Stults suffers from bronchiolitis obliterans, sometimes known as popcorn lung, but International Flavor's experts say his condition was caused by a rheumatoid, autoimmune condition unrelated to diacetyl exposure.

Stults complained of potentially rheumatoid symptoms to his primary-care physician since 1993. He was referred to a rheumatologist, who could not identify a source of Stults's disease.

A jury found in favor of International Flavors, and the Eighth Circuit denied Stults's motion for a new trial and for judgment on his claim of breach of implied warranty claim.

"IFF advances several reasons the jury could have decided the Stultses failed to meet their burden, such as Stults's 'overall lack of credibility, as demonstrated by the insincerity with which he changed his popcorn consumption history to make it coincide with the time his lungs were deteriorating,'" said Judge William Jay Riley, writing for the three-judge panel. "The Stultses, on the other hand, do not point to any specific evidence in the record to support their assertion that the evidence favored them 'overwhelmingly.'"

International Flavor presented testimony that consumer exposure to diacetyl from microwave popcorn is insignificant, and could not lead to the same levels of exposure as suffered by industrial workers working around vats of chemical flavorings.

Riley said this issue was properly presented to the jury, and it was thus unnecessary for the jury "to proceed to the question of affirmative defenses because the jury found in IFF's favor on the Stultses' breach-of-implied-warranty claim."

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