Lawsuit After Girl Dies From Peanuts In Chinese Food

UPDATED 03/18/11 5:51 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – The family of a Chicago Public Schools student, who died last year after suffering an allergic reaction to peanuts at her school, is suing the Chinese restaurant that supplied the food.

Thomas A. Edison Regional Gifted Center student Katelyn Carlson, 13, died after eating peanuts inside food her seventh grade teacher ordered from Chinese Inn Restaurant for a Dec. 17, 2010, class holiday party, according to a suit filed in Cook County Circuit Court.

The suit claims the teacher told an employee of the Chinese Inn Restaurant the food was for a class party and students in the class had peanut allergies and the restaurant agreed to provide food that was free of peanut oils, peanut derivatives and peanut flavorings.

But officials said in January that the food might have been cooked in peanut oil, despite the teacher’s instructions.

Carlson was pronounced dead at 5:40 p.m. Dec. 17, 2010, at Children’s Memorial Hospital, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office. An autopsy determined she died from anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) to food allergy and her death was ruled an accident.

The suit claims Chinese Inn Restaurant, at 7505 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Niles, provided food containing peanuts or peanut products, carelessly prepared the food and failed to warn the purchasers of food not capable of being prepared free from peanut products.

A woman who answered the phone at the restaurant Thursday night said nobody was available to comment.

The three-count suit, filed Thursday by Katelyn Carlson’s father, Micahel Carlson Jr., is seeking more than $100,000 from the Chinese Inn Restaurant and owner Xiang Zhong Mei.

Following Carlson’s death, Edison Gifted School principal Saundra Gray said her campus at 4929 N. Sawyer Ave. “will no longer have any peanuts in the environment.”

She said in January that “a food service provider for Edison has picked up all the food containing peanuts so it will no longer be a choice on our menu,” and also instructed parents not to pack any lunches containing peanut products for their students.

The peanut free environment also applies to the sister school, Albany Park Multicultural Academy, on the same campus.

Chicago School Board spokesman Monique Bond said in January, “Some of our schools are peanut free zones, but there is no policy in place to make all schools mandatory peanut free zones.”

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

  • AJ

    This is so sad to hear what happened to the girl. Unfortunately, situations such as this is more common than people think. Chinese restaurants are known to use peanut oils, and food additives such as MSG in cooking. Even when people such as myself request that such oils and MSG are removed, the restaurants do not comply. I get a severe allergic reaction whenever such items are left in the foods. As a Chinese-American, I know how devastating such reactions can become. I personally stay away from Chinese restaurants as much as I can.

    • Jeff

      I don’t know anything about oils used by Chinese Re, but I doubt that they will use peanut oil which is much expensive than others. Just my 2 cents.

  • random cynic

    “The suit claims the teacher told an employee of the Chinese Inn Restaurant the food was for a class party and students in the class had peanut allergies…”

    … and where is the teacher’s culpability in this? He/she knew of the students’ allergies and yet failed to exercise due care?

  • david

    this is just a stupid situation all arround. The student should have had an epipen, and the teacher should not have ordered Chinese food. There is no way, even if the restaurant is careful, to ensure that trace amounts of peanuts get into food. People with allergies know that they have to be very careful, not because society is out for them, but because people do not fully understand that it means life or death for that person. Most of society thinks that a little peanut oil will not kill someone, or just a bit of residue on a knife will be no problem. They just don’t think about it, and they cant be expected to. They run a restaurant and I doubt that the family will have any real evidence to support their case…

    • Angela

      As a Chinese-American, with a son with severe allergies, any trip to a restaurant or take out from anywhere is fair game, even if you tell the restaurant beforehand. There is always a risk of cross contamination, unless perhaps they say that they absolutely do not use the ingredient at all (and none from their suppliers). This is just a sad situation all around.

  • pam

    Let’s see…. no peanut products in school. So, no PB&J sandwiches at lunch… for ANY student? (and no M&Ms either) Give me a break! What, you want stores to quit selling peanut products too?
    David is right… the kid should have had an epipen; the parents were clearly negligent in not ensuring their kid had an epipen if her allergy was so bad. The school should have had an epipen in each classroom as well.
    The world shouldn’t have to “shift” because of allergies of a few.

  • Ethan

    The parents need to take responsibility. It is not the responsibility of the restaurant. The parents should have sent her to school with her own special meal.

  • Reader

    I guess a lot depends on the evidence. There was a full investigation done so I assume (although you never know) the family is basing this on something. If the restaurant made promises that they couldnt or didnt follow through on then there probably is some culpability. If the family were just looking for money then CPS would have been a much easier target with deeper pockets.
    As for the allergy issue in general, families definitely need to be more responsible, but the problem seems to be just exploding. Twenty five percent of one of my kid’s classmates have peanut allergies….thats unbelievable. If it continues to grow at this rate, at what point does it no longer become the problem of each individual family, but pure negligence it schools dont address it.

  • meme

    I really resent how people with these allergies expect the whole world to change.

    • luvbeingamom

      Meme, take your resentment elsewhere. As a parent of a child with life threatening food allergies, I have never expected anyone to change their ways for my daughter or our family. My daughter, when she is older will never expect that either. If you were really educated about food allergies, etc…you would realize that the majority of people with food allergies/their parents do not expect you or anyone else to change, we only want people to be educated about food allergies-safe meals are provided by the parent.

  • Lisa Wright

    As a former teacher, I know that if I had a student in my classroom that had a peanut allergy (and peanut allergies are usually severe) I would not be serving Chinese take-out to my students. Chinese food is notorious for containing nut oils. The restaurant probably didn’t get cross contamination instructions and there could have been a language barrier. The class could have had a Make Your Own Pizza Day, or some other fun option, the girl would have been protected, and no one would have missed out. First I fault the teacher for not providing a different choice, the restaurant for not being more informed about allergies, and I fault the parents only if they allowed their child to have Chinese take out at school. Very sad. Btw, I don’t understand meme’s comment above regarding this girl expecting the “whold world to change.” Rather, I think the fact that she *wasn’t* expecting any change is what cost her life. A little accomodation doesn’t hurt anyone, especially when unnecessary life-threatening high risk is involved.

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