Panera Grilled Cheese Lawsuit Will Head to Jury Trial

in Food Allergy, Food Allergy News, Peanut & Tree Nut
Published: June 23, 2017

John Russo and his daughter who had the reaction.
The case of the Panera grilled cheese sandwich containing a dollop of peanut butter that caused a young girl’s anaphylactic reaction will head to a jury trial.

A date for has not been set for it, but the pre-trial procedures continue, according to Mary Vargas of Stein & Vargas and her co-counsel Laurel Francoeur, who are representing John Russo and his family in the case. [July 2022 update: Allergic Living is told Panera and the complainants have “resolved their differences.” No details of the settlement have been released.]

A Massachusetts judge has ordered the restaurant chain to produce documents of any incidents in the past four years in which a customer asked any Panera Bread outlet in Massachusetts for an order without a certain allergen, but the customer complained that the food did, in fact, contain the allergen.

Earlier, Vargas submitted a motion in which the family accused Panera of losing or destroying key evidence relating to the case, including surveillance video of the girl’s sandwich being prepared.

Video Not Kept

In his June 16, 2017 pre-trial finding, a Middlesex Superior Court judge agreed with the contention that Panera should have known that “the allergy incident was likely to lead to litigation and should have retained the video.”

Instead, the video was allowed to be overwritten. However, the judge says it’s up to the judge at trial to decide whether to instruct the jury that this reflects negatively on Panera.

The grilled cheese with a dollop of peanut butter.
During a deposition, one Panera employee said the Natick, Massachusetts location has “cameras everywhere,” including one focused on the food preparation area.

The incident at the center of the case occurred in January 2016, when a Boston family placed an online order for a grilled cheese sandwich from Panera’s Natick restaurant.

Glob of Peanut Butter

The child’s mother, Elissa Russo, says she specified in two separate places on the online order form that the grilled cheese was for a child with an allergy to peanuts. She requested that Panera make sure the sandwich was safe for her daughter to consume.

Instead, according to the civil lawsuit, Panera prepared a sandwich that had “a significant glob of peanut butter secreted within each corner of the sandwich.”

The child, who is identified by the initials A.R. in the documents, ate part of the sandwich before realizing it contained her allergen. She soon vomited and once at the hospital, the girl broke out in hives all over her body. She was given a shot of epinephrine, kept overnight in the hospital, and then discharged in the morning.

See also:
Judge to Weigh Panera Suit Over Grilled Cheese Served with Peanut Butter