Court says schools not liable for allergens contained in school meals

Maryland court rules on peanut case saying foodservice department not accountable for student's reaction.

March 7--Nicole Pace told the school nurse that her daughter was deathly allergic to peanuts and had her 5-year-old's allergist provide Hillcrest Elementary School in Frederick with a pre-measured dose of medicine, just in case.

But a cafeteria worker — unaware of the danger peanuts posed to the girl, Liana — gave her a peanut butter sandwich.

"The child immediately began experiencing an anaphylactic reaction; her airway and eyelids began to swell, and she became lethargic and confused," according to court records. Liana's epinephrine was administered, and she was rushed to the hospital. She survived the attack but developed anxiety, became fearful of her school and eventually was transferred.

Although the public school failed to prevent Liana from being exposed to her food allergen, the state cannot be held accountable for what happened to her, according to a decision this week by the state's highest court.

Maryland, its Department of Education and its superintendent of schools are not responsible for ensuring that school-provided lunches are free of allergens that could send students to the hospital in anaphylactic shock, the Court of Appeals ruled. A state cannot be found negligent under the National School Lunch Act, which requires states to provide nutritious meals to students in need, the court said.