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Centennial Man Wins $7M In 'Popcorn Lung' Case

DENVER (CBS4)- A Centennial man has won a $7 million verdict in the so-called "microwave popcorn lung" case.

Fifty-nine-year-old Wayne Watson had sued the manufacturer Gilster-Mary Lee, also Kroger and Dillon Foods.

He had purchased the popcorn at King Soopers.

Watson's attorneys claimed there should have been a warning on the label. But lawyers for the supermarket chain responded saying they "might have well have warned that there are aliens popping out of the bags because there's just as much support for that."

"It's kind of a weird story isn't it? A guy gets sick by breathing in the toxic fumes of dicetyl that is on butter-flavored microwave popcorn in the sanctity of his own kitchen," said Watson.

Dicetyl is a compound that has now been removed from microwave butter-flavored popcorn. It has been linked to lung problems for workers in plants that produce microwave popcorn.

Watson was diagnosed with respiratory problems in 2007 after years of inhaling the smell of artificial butter on the microwaved popcorn he would eat daily. Watson said he ate about two bags of popcorn per day.

"Who would ever reasonably think that popping popcorn in your own home, no matter how it's packaged or processed, would all of a sudden turn into an agent for toxic lung disease," Watson told CBS4 in 2010.

The verdict came after a day and half of deliberations in Denver Federal Court.

Previously quality testers in popcorn factories had won or settled lawsuits worth millions of dollars after claiming health issues from inhaling the flavoring.

Attorney Kenneth McClain represented many of the popcorn factory workers.

"That link gave them knowledge of consumers because in their own plant workers popping popcorn in the quality assurance area were getting sick," said McClain.

Watson and his attorney spoke with CBS4 after the verdict was announced. Watch his entire interview in this Web Extra.

"They did absolutely no testing whatsoever that the consumer might be at risk. The only experiment they did was go sell the product and see what happens. They rolled the dice and lost," said Watson.

He believes the key to winning the case was the testimony of a doctor from National Jewish Hospital who diagnosed Watson's condition as "popcorn lung" five years ago.

"I haven't eaten a bag of popcorn since 2007. I hardly eat popcorn any more. Occasionally we'll pop some on the stove the old fashioned way," said Watson.

The jury found the manufacturer 80 percent at fault, King Soopers' parent company Dillon Foods and Kroger divided the other 20 percent. The supermarket chain said it will appeal.

Gilster-Mary Lee issued this statement after the verdict, "Gilster-Mary Lee Corp. has manufactured and provided safe, quality microwave popcorn to consumers for over two decades. We are certainly very disappointed by the decision of the jury in this case in light of the very clear evidence which was presented, including the millions of consumers who have safely used and enjoyed microwave popcorn since it was introduced. We are currently evaluating our next steps in this matter and will assert all rights available to us under the law."

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