Eric and Cassandra Peoples of Carthage, Missouri were media sensations eight years ago when Eric won a $20 million judgment from a company that makes artificial butter flavoring for popcorn. Eric worked at a popcorn factory and sued over exposure to a chemical called diacetyl, the substance that mimics the butter flavor. It gave him a case of bronchiolitis obliterans, an incurable disease that will ultimately require him to get a double lung transplant. Despite the large jury award, Eric’s failing health and problems with a contractor have landed them in bankruptcy court.

The exact amount the Peoples received has never been revealed but the law firm that handled the suit got 35 percent. The rest was split with other plaintiffs. The couple contracted with a construction company to build a new house for an initial cost of $400,000 but problems soon arose and the couple claim the bill rose to $3.9 million. The contractor sued for an unpaid bill and won a judgment that pushed the Peoples’ into bankruptcy.

Adding to their pain and legal difficulties were bad check charges filed against Cassandra Peoples. The contractor went to prosecutors after a check bounced twice and Cassandra was charged with a felony. She pleaded guilty and received a suspended sentence but still faces another forgery charge for allegedly trying to cash bad checks.

The Peoples’ bad luck might have been avoided or at least reduced if they had gotten legal advice promptly. They failed to respond to the contractor’s lawsuit in a timely manner and the judge granted a default judgment with a 9 percent annual interest rate. The couple asked that the verdict be set aside but the court has yet to rule. Now, with their finances a wreck, the money that was supposed to help Eric live a normal life is mostly gone and the future is uncertain indeed.

Source: Joplin Globe, “Missouri couple bankrupt eight years after winning ‘popcorn lung’ verdict,” Jeff Lehr, Oct. 15, 2012