A seven year-old student died at her Richmond, Virginia elementary school in January after she ate a peanut that a classmate gave to her. The girl, Amarria Denise Johnson, had a severe peanut allergy. She had an immediate allergic reaction and was taken to the school clinic. She then went into cardiac arrest and died.
Although the school was reportedly aware of the child’s allergy, the classmate was not. An investigation by police concluded that the actions of the classmate did not rise to the level of criminal negligence, nor did the actions of the school and the child’s mother. A determination by law enforcement that no crime occurred does not preclude a civil case for wrongful death, although it raises the question of who has a duty to guard against injury from a food allergy.
A Chicago lawsuit deals with a similar situation. On the last day of the fall semester in December 2010, a 13 year-old girl, Katelyn Carson, died after going into anaphylactic shock when she ate some Chinese food at school. The girl had a severe allergy to peanut oil. Her teacher was aware of the allergy, so when he ordered Chinese food for an end-of-semester party, he reportedly requested that the food be prepared without any peanut products. Lab testing on samples of the meal found trace amounts of peanut products.
The girl’s family filed a wrongful death suit against the restaurant, Chinese Inn, in March 2011, claiming $100,000 in damages. The board of Chicago Public Schools, partly in response to Katelyn’s case, voted unanimously in January 2012 to spend nearly $200,000 to stock schools with Epi-pens, which can stop people with certain allergies from going into anaphylaxis.
A wrongful death claim carries the same set of elements and burden of proof as any other negligence claim. The first element a plaintiff must prove is that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff. In the case of people with food allergies, the question is whether someone providing food owes a duty to protect the person from injury. Unlike injuries from events like car accidents, food allergy injuries are not always foreseeable, particularly if the defendant has no way of knowing of the allergy. In the case in Chicago, the restaurant had advance notice of the girl’s allergy and, by agreeing to prepare food for her, agreed to a duty of care. In the Virginia case, on the other hand, the classmate had no knowledge of the girl’s allergy.
Other factors might play a role in analyzing these specific cases. The classmate in the Virginia case is presumably also only seven years old, so she may not be held fully legally liable because if her youth. A Chinese restaurant might have difficulty preparing anything in a peanut-free environment, considering how much peanuts figure into much typical Chinese food. This could raise questions of why the restaurant agreed to take on the job and why anyone thought to order Chinese food for the class.
The Washington, DC injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen help people injured due to the negligence of others to recover their just compensation. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.
More Blog Posts:
Food and Drug Administration to Take Action on Food Safety in Restaurants and Stores, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, October 13, 2011
Rep. Dennis Kucinich Settles Washington DC Personal Injury Lawsuit Over Sandwich, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, January 29, 2011
McDonald’s is Sued Again Over French Fries’ Ingredients, Maryland Accident Law Blog, September 25, 2007