The case of the Panera grilled cheese sandwich containing a dollop of peanut butter that caused a young girl’s anaphylactic reaction will soon 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.
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 in June, 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.
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.
During a deposition, one Panera employee said the Natick 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 the Natick, Mass., Panera location. The child’s mother, Elissa Russo, notes that she specified in two separate places on the online order form that the grilled cheese was for a child who was allergic to peanuts and requested that Panera make sure the sandwich was safe for her daughter to consume.
Instead, Panera prepared a sandwich that had “a significant glob of peanut butter secreted within each corner of the sandwich,” according to the civil lawsuit.
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 before she was given a shot of epinephrine. She was kept overnight in hospital before being discharged in the morning.