Who Is At Fault When A Fatal Reaction Occurs?

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The June 2014 death of Scott Johnson is now making headlines. I’m glad about this in a way.

Let me clarify: I am never glad when someone loses his or her life to a food allergic reaction. What I am glad about, though, is that his story requires us to have honest, candid, real conversation.

Scott’s death is making headlines now because his family has filed a lawsuit against the restaurant that prepared the fatal food (pancakes). Reading the circumstances leading up to his final meal, the details look very familiar to most food allergic individuals. To be sure, there were mistakes made on both sides. Scott forgot his EpiPen®, and the restaurant was unable to follow through on their promise of creating fully milk-free pancakes in their kitchen.

Who Is At Fault When A Fatal Reaction Occurs?

So who’s fault was it?

Is a lawsuit really necessary?

Doesn’t everyone make mistakes from time to time?

These are hard – really hard – questions. Questions that even those within the food allergy community don’t respond with the same answer.

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There are too many instances of these accidental exposures happening these days. If someone isn’t held responsible, will they just keep occurring with more regularity?

Yes, we absolutely have the responsibility of asking the questions, bringing the EpiPens® and other meds, and making sure we are doing everything within our power to provide a safe eating environment for our loved one.

But we can only carry that responsibility so far. At some point, we have to trust the server, manager, and chef that we have gotten our point across that this is serious business. This is why so many of us avoid eating out regularly, and why – when we find a restaurant that is able and willing to accommodate our needs – we go there enough that they recognize us.

This was the case for the Johnson family, when they went out for breakfast one morning last June. They were known. They were in a restaurant that they trusted. And that trust was ultimately broken.

Who can say they wouldn’t file suit if they were in the Johnson’s shoes? I’m not sure I can.

Tiffany Self

Tiffany Self is a wife, mom to "Z", and a lover of words. In an ironic twist, she is an English class dropout who now writes for a living. Tiffany is a freelancer in the Chicago suburbs by way of Seattle and Southern Oregon. She writes about her journey of parenting a child with multiple severe food allergies, asthma, and environmental allergies. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

1 Comment to Who Is At Fault When A Fatal Reaction Occurs?

  1. Whilst I think ultimately it is the family’s responsibility to make sure they can deal with other’s lapses/mistakes (don’t forget the epi-pen!), I do think there is value in showing how serious food allergies can be. There is a troubling attitude in the wider community that all food allergies are ‘made up’ or just food choices and they aren’t taken seriously or, worse, they are considered high maintenance and annoying to everyone else. For instance I have had teachers knowingly give my child foods they were allergic to because they didn’t take me seriously (it is not a life threatening allergy) and that is frustrating that people do that. I have gone through all the conversations with the eye rolls and so on. So, I think this will go one of two ways. Some people might sit back and say ‘wow, you can actually die from dairy allergies? show me more information!’ but more people will probably go ‘these food allergy people are annoying and don’t take responsibility for their own illness and expect everyone else to bend for them – boo food allergy people!’. I predict the second crowd will be a whole lot more vocal than the first and I predict a lot of restaurants refusing to serve people with life threatening allergies for fear of litigation now. Or am I being too cynical? :)

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