When You Put Butter on Your Popcorn at The Movie Theater, Is it Really Butter or Just a Compound of Chemicals that Exposes You to Unnecessary Harm or Danger?
My wife is a health freak and although I am not, I am learning to live by her nutritional guidance as the fear of age and illness becomes more defined. Quite simply, if you look at the labels of many of the food products we ingest, it is nothing more than a conglomeration of chemicals intended to fool us that we are eating something else by virtue of its familiar flavor.
Recently I went to the movies and after purchasing popcorn saw what appeared to be a fountain-like device that allowed customers to administer as much “butter” on their popcorn as they wanted. Interestingly enough, as an experienced product liability attorney who has spent the last three decades fighting on behalf of injured consumers, I knew in fact that this was not butter and thought about the potential health hazards.
I recently came across a case where a consumer suffered lung disease from popcorn butter flavoring as it was heated and vaporized in a microwave. Not the same as movie popcorn, however, my curiosity was awakened.
According to the facts as I read the case, the plaintiff and his wife sued the popcorn manufacturer, as well as the grocery store that sold the popcorn, alleging strict liability, negligence, failure to warn, and violation of Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA) arguing that the defendants failed to adequately test their products and failed to warn of the known risk of lung injury from exposure to butter flavoring. An expert testified that the plaintiff’s exposure to one of the ingredients used in the popcorn flavoring had caused lung disease. The plaintiff also presented evidence that the popcorn manufacturer’s own quality assurance workers had become ill while popping corn in the company factory and had also sued the company which should have alerted it to the known health risk and its need to warn. Other evidence revealed that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) had determined in 2004 that one of the compounds used had caused a similar injury in plant workers and the lawsuit went on to name individual manufacturers of chemical flavorings.
The defendants evidentially denied that the products had caused the injury and that any problems sustained by employees in the factory were caused separately by carpet cleaning chemicals at a prior job. The jury did not agree and found the defendants liable under failure to warn, negligence, and deceptive trade practices theories and awarded $7.2 million dollars in damages including $5 million in punitive damages against the defendants.