Man awarded $2.7 million for injuries

Thursday, July 21, 2005

JOPLIN, Mo. -- A former popcorn plant worker who claimed his respiratory illness was the result of a harmful chemical used to make butter flavoring has been awarded about $2.7 million in damages.

Kenneth Moenning, 36, of Lockwood, is one of about 30 current and former workers at Jasper Popcorn Co. who have sued International Flavors and Fragrances Inc. and subsidiary Bush Boake Allen Inc. The plaintiffs say the manufacturers should have known the chemical diacetyl, used to make the popcorn's butter flavoring, causes lung damage.

A 12-member jury, which spent seven hours deliberating Tuesday in Jasper County Circuit Court before returning the verdict, agreed.

Moenning worked in the flavoring room at the Jasper plant from 1993 through 1995. Doctors testified he has bronchiolitis obliterans, a rare, progressive lung disease that eventually could require that he receive a lung transplant.

Experts testified that the disease was a result of Moenning's exposure to diacetyl and other chemicals in butter flavorings used at the plant, and that manufacturers knew of such hazards but didn't warn workers.

"They were unconcerned about what could happen to the people at Jasper," the attorney for Moenning, Ken McClain, said during closing arguments.

Attorneys for the defense said management did not know the harmful effects the butter flavoring could have on workers.

"Someone is trying to blame the defendants for something no one knew or could have known," Mike Patton, the attorney for International Flavors and Fragrances, said in closing arguments.

Nine jurors -- the minimum required to reach a verdict -- approved a verdict awarding $2,693,402 to Moenning and $50,000 for his wife.

It fell short of what McClain sought -- $20 million for Kenneth Moenning and $5 million for his wife, who claims to have suffered emotional losses as a result of her husband's health problems.

Previous juries in Jasper County have awarded up to $20 million to popcorn plant workers.

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