Friday, September 21, 2012

$7.2-Million for Popcorn Lung?

Where could your next lawsuit come from?

Whether you make a product or provide a service, and you do that in the good old United States, there's someone out there trying to figure out how to make money the old fashion way -- by suing you.

This past week a federal court awarded a Denver man a $7.2-million settlement in a lawsuit alleging a microwave popcorn company and a division of Kroger Supermarkets  sold him popcorn that made him sick.

ABC news reported Wayne Watson claimed to suffer from "popcorn lung" after eating two bags of microwave popcorn every day for ten years.  Watson told reporters he might look like a fairly healthy man, but ". . . on a good day" I only have "about 53-percent lung capacity."

The maker of the popcorn, Glister-Mary Lee and Kroger say they will appeal. Watson was a furniture salesman and the defendants argued his work with carpet cleaning chemicals caused his illness.

The issue is really about DIACETYL, a chemical used to give popcorn its butter flavoring without using any dairy products at all.  Until recently, "popcorn lung" disease was only found in plant workers who worked with the chemical flavoring.  Popcorn plant unions have been trying to get the chemical banned for years and regulators have never decided on how much exposure is unsafe.

You don't have to package or sell popcorn to become the target of plaintiff's attorneys.

Every business, in fact every organization, should always be evaluating their risks and then striving to minimize those risks -- whether you make a product that has potentially dangerous chemicals in it, or a design that could contribute to the death of an infant, or put others at risk by unscreened predators that work for you -- think Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church, a neighborhood nursery school, a discount store that sells baby cribs, infant car seats or toys that can come apart and choke a child.

When you quit looking for risks and where the next problem might come from, you might as well call your lawyer and put him/her on retainer.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

BP Still Under Fire Two Years Later

Another good reason to prevent crises reared its ugly head in recent days.

The United States Department of Justice has accused BP Oil Company of corporate recklessness and gross negligence for its part in the 2010 Gulf oil disaster.

You've seen the TV commercials touting how the Gulf region has recovered and what a great place it is to vacation.  But in a federal court filing last week federal prosecutors urged the Federal Court in Louisiana to ignore BP's claim the region is "undergoing a robust recovery."

Federal prosecutors said some of BP's earlier court documents were "plainly misleading."

Transocean, the actual owner and operator of the oil rig that exploded, was also accused of gross negligence by the feds.  "BP did not act alone, by any means, and its gross negligence and willful misconduct are inextricably joined with the acts and omissions of Transocean."

Beyond the reputation and public perception of the two companies, the latest dust up in federal court is all about money -- billions of dollars of real money.

BP has already settled with lawyers representing some victims of the spill, but if the latest allegations stand up in court, BP could be facing as much as another $21-billion in damages in addition to compensatory and punitive damages.

BP boldly disputes the allegations of gross negligence and says it is looking forward to presenting its own evidence at trial in January of next year.

If you think, for a minute, that something like this could never happen to your business, think again.