By Jeff Lehr
Two lawsuits on behalf of 44 more plaintiffs have been filed in Jasper County Circuit Court against the makers of a butter flavoring used at an area microwave-popcorn packaging plant.
The 44 allege the flavoring caused severe impairment of their lungs.
The plaintiffs include 43 former and current workers at the Jasper Popcorn Co. plant and a man who lived near the plant in the town of Jasper.
The lawsuits represent a second round of legal action against International Flavors and Fragrances Inc., and Bush Boake Allen, the manufacturers of the flavoring that contains diacetyl, exposure to which allegedly causes a potentially fatal lung disease known as bronchiolitis obliterans.
Forty-three workers at the plant in the 1990s either have won verdicts against IFF and BBA, or have received settlements since 2004.
Three new defendants are named in this second round of lawsuits brought by Ken McClain, an attorney from Independence, who has represented all the plaintiffs to date. The new defendants are: Givaudan Flavors, another maker of a butter flavoring used at the plant, and Aldrich Chemical Co. and Sigma-Aldrich Inc., the suppliers for IFF and BBA of acetaldehyde, a chemical ingredient in the flavoring alleged to make exposure to diacetyl even more deadly.
The new lawsuits allege fraudulent concealment and civil conspiracy on the part of all the defendants in addition to allegations of negligence and strict liability for defect in design failure to warn users that marked the first round of lawsuits against IFF and BBA.
McClain alleges that Givaudan was aware of cases of bronchiolitis obliterans among its own workers in Ohio before selling the Jasper plant any of its flavorings and that the suppliers of acetaldehyde knew, or should have known, of its potential to make diacetyl exposure even more deadly.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health identified 117 workers at the plant with abnormal lung conditions in 2002. But, McClain said, more than 300 workers were potentially exposed there. He said it is natural that more cases have surfaced.
“This is a tragedy that is repeating itself across the country,” McClain said. “It is not limited to Jasper County. We have cases in Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland and California.”
One worker named in the first round of lawsuits died of lung disease in 2006. McClain said eight have been evaluated for lung transplants, but none have received a transplant to date.
The new plaintiffs include popcorn workers Laura Ghumm, Joyce Hatfield, Edward Eric Marks, Marilyn Benefield, Bill Craig, Jeannie Ellis, Rhonda Garner, Joyce Hamilton, Susan Hayes, Georgia Leaming, James Leedy, Rick Leivan, John McBride, Michael Marks, Tammy Parker, Tim Pettyjohn, Carla Rutledge, Lola Schooler, Margaret Shoemaker and Deena Stebler, all of Jasper.
Carthage residents Kevin Blades, Glenn Borland, Jason Byrd, Rusty Davis, Vonnie Davis, Pauline Horn, Rita Mitchell, James Pittman, Maria Saldivar and Danny Spry are also named as affected workers. Others are Mary Arles and Donald Stephens, both of Golden City; Jamie Hildenbrand, Bruce Clements, Darrell Crockett and Annette Lee, all of Lamar; Angie Bowan, Lockwood; Dianna Leedy Crandall, Joplin; Lorri Ingalls, Iantha; Vicky Kresyman, Carl Junction; Jack Lemasters, Bolivar; Roger Luce, Jerico Springs; and Dorothy Morrison, Tulsa, Okla.
Donald Pettyjohn, who lived near the plant in Jasper, at 408 S. Main St., also is named as a plaintiff suffering respiratory disease from airborne exposure to the butter flavorings at the plant.
Thirty of those early cases were adjudicated in Jasper County, with a $20 million verdict, two $15 million verdicts and a $2.7 million verdict being awarded in cases that were decided by juries and not out-of-court settlements. Thirteen were removed to federal court and eventually settled.
By Jeff Lehr
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