Sometimes you can lose big by winning. A plaintiff in Illinois found out the hard way, losing a $30 million verdict in a popcorn lung case.
The 45-year-old plaintiff was diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans, presumably as the result of working in a butter flavor processing plant for nearly 20 years. His lungs are shot, down to 25% of capacity.
Plaintiff’s lawsuit alleged that a bunch of companies allowed the plaintiff to be exposed to diacetyl in the factory in which he worked, and that they knew of the risks associated with diacetyl, but did not warn those exposed to it. Everyone else was smart enough to settle the case except BASF, the manufacturer, who apparently thought a jury would buy their nonsense. They reportedly offered $350,000 to settle.
Not so much. The jury crushed BASF with a $30 million verdict ($32 million cut back by 5% with comparative negligence). The jury might have been swayed by, you know, the proof that the company knew that rats exposed to diacetyl developed severe lung disease from their own study and told no one and did nothing.
But… here’s the problem. The Fourth Division First District Illinois Appellate Court flipped the verdict and ordered a retrial. Why? Plaintiff won a directed verdict on the issue of the statute of limitations with respect to when he knew he may have suffered an injury as the result of the plaintiffs’ negligence.
So BASF argued that the trial court erred by directing a verdict for the plaintiff on the SOL issue when it was undisputed that the plaintiff had some knowledge of an injury (a severe condition in his lungs) that, if found to put the plaintiff on notice, would have barred plaintiff’s claim. The court believed that the evidence was not so clear so that no reasonable jury could have concluded the plaintiff did not know or should not have known the cause of his lung injury.