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October 18, 2012

Couple that won $20 million lawsuit files for bankruptcy

CARTHAGE, Mo. — The Missouri couple who won a $20 million lawsuit eight years ago against the makers of butter flavoring used in popcorn now claim they are broke.

Eric and Cassandra Peoples filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in federal court recently, claiming their home, 10.5 acres of land and other personal property assets amount to $733,000, and that they have more than $611,000 in liabilities.

Eric Peoples was awarded $18 million and his wife Cassandra $2 million in 2004 by a Jasper County jury in a lawsuit against International Flavors and Fragrances Inc. and Bush Boake Allen Inc., makers of a butter flavoring used at a popcorn plant where Eric Peoples worked.

At trial, doctors testified he had developed an irreversible lung disease by exposure to diacetyl, a chemical injected in popcorn to give it a butter flavor and aroma. They said he would eventually need a double-lung transplant.

The lawsuit garnered national attention at the time, resulting in several other settlements against the fragrance company for "popcorn lung" claims by workers at the plant.

It has never been clear how much of the $20 million went to the couple. At the time, Eric Peoples said the law firm representing he and his wife received 35 percent of the award. An unannounced portion was also set aside for other workers at the popcorn plant.

Among the liabilities listed by the Peoples in their bankruptcy petition was a $107,147 legal claim against them by the contractor who built the couple a luxury home estimated at $3.9 million at the time.

Among their personal property assets were two Honda automobiles, a Chrysler PT Cruiser and a Kawasaki Mule; a bedroom set, dryer, end tables, china, lamps, a VCR, $50 worth of camera equipment, and a microwave oven.

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Details for this story were provided by The Joplin (Mo.) Globe.

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