Massachusetts Family Sues Panera Bread For Sandwich Served to Allergic Child

The family of a six-year-old girl acutely allergic to peanuts filed a lawsuit for negligence last week in Middlesex against Panera Bread. The family claims the girl’s grilled cheese sandwich at the Natick Panera Bread this past January was served with a massive glob of peanut butter, requiring her to be hospitalized.John Russo, the girl’s father, said his wife and he are always careful to explain their daughter’s peanut allergy at restaurants. They do not leave home without an epinephrine pen in case she is accidentally exposed. When Russo’s wife, Elissa, ordered electronically from Panera on the day of the incident, she noted on two separate occasions that the grilled cheese was for a child with a severe peanut allergy. This fact rendered the episode particularly egregious to the couple.

In addition to negligence, the lawsuit alleges assault, battery, and intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress. It further argues that Panera Bread engaged in unfair and deceptive business practices by adding peanut butter to the girl’s sandwich with knowledge of her acute peanut allergy. The complaint alleges that the episode altered the girl from a carefree child to an anxious girl with separation anxiety. The lawsuit was filed at a time when there is mounting evidence of “food allergy bullying” throughout the nation.

Russo said he realized that the sandwich contained peanut butter shortly after arriving home from work that evening. Elissa immediately called the doctor, and the girl started panicking, asking her parents repeatedly if she was going to die. Since the girl wasn’t yet exhibiting severe symptoms, the doctor advised Benadryl. The girl then vomited, and Elissa then took her to the hospital.

At around 10 pm that evening, Elissa texted John that their daughter was about to be discharged from Newton-Wellesley Hospital. However, hives suddenly appeared over the girl’s body, and she was given an epinephrine shot. The girl was discharged the following day.

On the prior evening, Russo called the manager of the Natick location, and the manager apologized repeatedly, blaming the episode on a language barrier. Russo didn’t buy the explanation. He performed research and learned that “allergy” translates to “alergia” in both Spanish and Portuguese. Russo was frustrated with the fact that there were nonetheless two tablespoons of the allergen on the grilled cheese sandwich.

The lawsuit alleges that less than a month after the January incident, a similar episode occurred to a separate child at a Panera Bread near Wayland. The same franchise group that owns the Natick restaurant where the Russo incident occurred owns the Wayland location. According to the complaint, a child with a peanut allergy ordered a grilled cheese that was also served with peanut butter. She suffered anaphylactic shock and was hospitalized.

Russo indicated that he learned about the Wayland Panera Bread episode through a Facebook page for mothers of children with nut allergies. Russo and his attorneys indicated that the mother in the Wayland incident did not want to be a party to the lawsuit.

While Panera Bread’s director of public affairs was silent on the case, the operating partner of the restaurant franchise expressed concern that the allegation of two separate cases in which someone with a peanut allergy was served a grilled cheese with peanut butter did not sound plausible.

Panera Bread advises on its website that it cannot guarantee that its menu items are allergy-free, due to its use of common equipment to handle food. However, a lawyer for the Russo child said that this isn’t a case in which the girl was accidentally exposed to trace quantities of the allergen. Instead, there was a substantial amount of peanut butter on the grilled cheese.

Last month, the owner of a restaurant in England was sentenced to six years in prison for putting nuts in a dish after the customer requested “no nuts,” and the customer subsequently died.

If you have been injured by another party’s negligence, you may face significant medical bills and time off work, and you may need the assistance of an injury lawyer to redress your injuries. At the Neumann Law Group, our personal injury attorneys provide trustworthy legal representation to accident victims all over the state of Massachusetts. Contact us toll-free at 800-525-NEUMANN or use our online form to set up a free consultation.

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