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$5 Million Settlement Reached in Missouri Popcorn Lung Case

Attorneys for the Independence, MO law firm of Humphrey, Farrington & McClain have reached a $5 million settlement on behalf of a former employee at a St. Joseph food manufacturing plant which exposed him to dangerous chemicals.

The settlement was reached on Monday between George W. Giles, of Clarksdale, MO, and Carmi Flavor and Fragrance Company, Inc. as a jury was being selected for trial in Buchanan County, MO Circuit Court in St. Joseph.

Giles, 57, was a mechanic at Ventura Foods, LLC from 1997 to 2003. He was exposed to the butter-flavoring chemical diacetyl, which is used to make food products such as margarine, cooking oil and mayonnaise.

As a result of that exposure, Giles started having respiratory problems in 1999. By the time he left Ventura Foods, his pulmonary system was severely damaged. He also sustained progressive injuries to his skeletal system and other organs.

In 2011, he was diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans. This disease, commonly known as popcorn lung, obstructs the small airways of the lung and is permanent. Scores of food and flavoring plant workers across the United States have been crippled by the disease after being exposed to diacetyl.

The lawsuit, which Giles’ attorneys filed in 2013, said doctors did not know the link between diacetyl and lung disease during the time Giles worked at Ventura Foods. However, the food industry was aware of the link between flavoring chemicals and lung disease. Yet, it did not warn employees of the hazardous nature of their products.

“This was an avoidable tragedy,” said lead attorney Kenneth B. McClain. “George should never have been exposed to this toxic butter flavoring.”

The son of a crop and livestock farmer, Giles grew up in Bethany, MO. He served in the U.S. Army from 1981 to 1984. Giles then worked as a mechanic and welder for several St. Joseph-area employers before coming to work at Ventura Foods in 1997.

McClain said he was strong, physically active and had left Ventura to open his own garage. But the illness ultimately left him a cripple.

“No human should ever do to George Giles what Carmi Flavor did,” McClain said. “No amount of money can replace what was taken from George.”

Giles also was represented by Steven E. Crick, Kevin D. Stanley and Scott A. Britton-Mehlisch of Humphrey, Farrington & McClain, and Kenneth Siemens of Murphy, Taylor, Siemens & Elliot., P.C. in St. Joseph.

Humphrey, Farrington & McClain has been a pioneer in litigation against diacetyl manufacturers. It has represented numerous plant workers around the United States whose lungs were destroyed because of exposure to diacetyl.

In 2010, Kenneth McClain and his team of attorneys won a $30.4 million verdict against BASF Corp. From 2004 to 2005, Humphrey, Farrington & McClain won three verdicts totaling $50 million on behalf of workers at a microwave popcorn manufacturing facility in Jasper, Missouri.

“Unfortunately, too many defendants believe they are above the law and often do not produce documents that are in their possession,” McClain said. “Often they get away with it. But not here.”

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