Holland & Knight Wins Major Product Liability Suit Over Microwave Popcorn
NEW YORK – July 14, 2010 – A team of litigators from Holland & Knight successfully represented Chr. Hansen, Inc. in a critical product liability case brought by a consumer who claimed that ConAgra's Butter Lovers microwave popcorn caused him severe respiratory damage. Denmark-based Chr. Hansen, Inc. is one of the world's leading producers of ingredients for food and other consumer products and is a supplier to ConAgra Foods, Inc.
Partners Chris Angius and Chris Kelly, along with Associates Steve Raffaele, Kate Skeele and Garrett Garfield obtained summary judgment for Chr. Hansen, Inc. in the country's first consumer microwave popcorn exposure case to go to judgment.
On July 2, Judge Rosanna Peterson of the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Washington granted Chr. Hansen's motion for summary judgment, finding no scientific basis for the claim that microwave popcorn poses a health hazard to consumers. Diacetyl, a butter flavoring manufactured by Hansen used as an ingredient in microwave popcorn, was alleged to have caused significant pulmonary injuries to consumers. The signature disease caused by diacetyl vapors, bronchiolitis obliterans, has been dubbed "popcorn lung" on the basis of dozens of suits brought by popcorn factory workers across the United States in the last seven years.
Judge Peterson's 70-page opinion is the first to provide a detailed evaluation of the scientific validity of the claim that consumers of microwave popcorn are subject to the same risks as popcorn factory workers. The decision is expected to set an important precedent in other pending consumer lawsuits brought against flavor manufacturers.