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Teen's food allergy death spurs lawsuit against restaurant

Monica Beyer is a mom of four and has been writing professionally since 2000, when her first book, Baby Talk, was published. Her main area of interest is attachment parenting and all that goes with it, including breastfeeding, co-sleepin...

Family sues restaurant after son dies from accidental exposure to allergen

A teen died from his food allergy after a restaurant said there was no allergen present in his food, and now a lawsuit is in the works.

A meal out for a family became a tragedy when a 16-year-old boy ate pancakes the restaurant assured were dairy-free. They weren't, and the boy, who suffered from a severe milk allergy, died as a result. Now the family is suing the restaurant for its fatal mistake.

Scott Johnson's dairy allergy was discovered when he was just an infant, and the family had taken great strides to ensure he never ate food that would make him sick. They say he'd had a few close calls before, and eating out didn't happen very often because of the risk. However, they say the server and the cook at the Minnesota Nice Cafe assured the group that the gluten-free pancakes were also dairy-free, so that was what they ordered for him. Scott's mother also instructed them to thoroughly clean off all the equipment before cooking his food. Unfortunately it wasn't enough.

Scott realized, after eating two pancakes, that he was having an allergic reaction. Unfortunately he didn't have his rescue meds on hand — no inhaler, no EpiPen. By the time they hustled him back home, it was too late, and the meds didn't work. He was rushed to the hospital, where he died three days later.

The family is now moving ahead with a lawsuit against the restaurant, who they say failed to properly address their son's food allergy and incorrectly assured them that there was no milk in the pancakes.

I agree that the restaurant was at fault for not double-checking the ingredients. When you eat out, you have to have a lot of trust — not only that the staff knows about a food allergy, but that they understand the severity. However, I have to ask — why wasn't this family packing an EpiPen? If his allergy was that dangerous and eating out was a rarity, I don't understand why they didn't take extra care to ensure that if he was exposed to dairy they would at least have the tools on hand to possibly save his life right away.

Yes, the restaurant should have done a better job of keeping its young customer safe. They should have gone over the ingredients again, and they should have made sure they thoroughly cleaned the equipment used to prepare his food. Also, don't forget — Scott could have still gotten sick and passed away even if there were EpiPens with him. However, restaurants will often post a notice listing allergens and to "eat at your own risk" if allergens are present, because cross-contamination can be difficult to prevent. It's an unfortunate fact of life for those with food allergies — eating out is almost always a risk.

This story breaks my heart because I happen to have a 16-year-old son with a peanut allergy. I can't imagine the pain this family is going through. I wish it hadn't happened to them. But I hope that other moms and dads can read this story and will always keep their kid's rescue meds on hand at all times so there is less of a chance of this tragedy happening to them.

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