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Cooking spray burn victim awarded USD7.1M in damages after can ‘exploded’

CHICAGO (AP) – A jury in Illinois has ordered Chicago-based Conagra Brands to pay USD7.1 million to a Pennsylvania woman who was badly injured in 2017 when a can of commercial brand cooking spray ignited in a kitchen at her workplace and set her aflame.

The verdict, issued on Monday in favour of Tammy Reese of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, is the first of numerous other cases from burn victims across the United States with similar stories citing accidents that occurred with Conagra-made cooking spray brands, including its popular grocery store brand Pam.

Reese was working at a social club kitchen in May 2017 when “suddenly and without warning” a can of Swell cooking spray “exploded into a fireball, causing burns and injuries”, according to a lawsuit filed on her behalf. She suffered deep second-degree burns on her head, face, arms and hands, and scar tissue continues to constrict her movement six years later, according to one of her lawyers Craig Smith.

Chicago-based Conagra Brands must pay out USD3.1 million in compensatory damages and USD4 million in punitive damages to Reese, according to the Cook County Circuit Court verdict.

Conagra Brands is the parent company of Pam and many other high-profile food brands including Marie Callender’s, Reddi-wip, Swiss Miss, Hunt’s, Chef Boyardee and Slim Jim.

The company said in an emailed statement that it disagreed with the jury’s verdict and that the “safety of our products and our consumers is always a top priority of Conagra”.

“We continue to stand by our cooking spray products, which are safe and effective when used correctly, as instructed. We are evaluating our legal options, including appeal,” the statement said.

Smith said there are more than 50 pending cases against Conagra from other burn victims across the country, and that the company has refused to issue a product recall for the “defective” cans.

“This is really the beginning of a serious problem for Conagra,” another attorney for Reese Peter Flowers said on Tuesday.