Hoping to prevent future mistakes, family sues restaurant following son's death


As the prevalence of food allergies in children continues to rise, advocates are pushing for states to require workers in the food service industry to be more educated on the risks.

One Minnesota family is doing just that after their 16-year-old son, Scott Johnson, died last June from complications from his dairy allergy, his GoFundMe Page says.

His family filed a wrongful death lawsuit this week against the owner of Minnesota Nice Cafe in Bemidji, where Scott had eaten, claiming he died as a direct result of being served pancakes, which the restaurant had assured the family were dairy free, the complaint says.

The lawsuit claims the restaurant owed "duty of care" to Scott and the general public to know the proper steps and procedures to be taken to prepare food for a person with a food allergy.

The Johnsons are seeking $50,000 in damages, the complaint notes.

Lack of awareness?

The Johnsons are hoping more restaurants will educate workers on food allergies so similar mistakes aren't made in the future, WCCO reports.

About half the 63 food allergy-related deaths from 1996-2006 involved restaurants, which some say suggests a lack of awareness in the food service industry, QSR Magazine reported.

There are few laws requiring workers to get food-allergen training. Massachusetts became the first state to pass legislation regarding restaurants and food allergies. The state's Food Allergy Awareness Act specifies actions restaurants must take to increase food allergy knowledge.

Similar bills have since been passed or are being considered in other states, but Minnesota does not have a state law requiring food-allergen training.

However, in 2010 St. Paul passed food allergen ordinances, which require a food allergy awareness poster in the kitchen of the restaurant. They also offer a discounted restaurant license fee to encourage restaurants to have an allergen-trained person on staff at all times, and have an allergic customer alert process in place.

Food allergy facts

There are roughly 15 million Americans who suffer from food allergies, reports note, and thousands of people are hospitalized every year. But few have allergic reactions that result in death.

From 2004-06, there were an average of 9,537 hospital discharges with a diagnosis related to a food allergy for children under the age of 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Some reports say there are more than 200 deaths per year from food allergies, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes it's actually far fewer than that.

The CDC told the Huffington Post that in 2005, only 11 people died from food allergies. (More people died from lawnmower accidents that year.)

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