(CN) - State education officials are not liable for a kindergartener's allergic reaction to a peanut butter sandwich, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled.
When Liana Pace started kindergarten, her mother told school administrators that Liana was extremely allergic to peanuts. Nicole Pace provided the school with an "Epi-Pen" to deliver a shot of epinephrine in case Liana had an attack.
Two months later, Liana was served a "credit" lunch funded by the National School Lunch Program since she did not have enough money in her cafeteria account.
Unfortunately, that lunch included a peanut butter sandwich. When Liana said she wasn't allowed to eat peanut butter, a cafeteria worker scolded her and ordered her to eat it.
Liana ate the sandwich, immediately went into anaphylactic shock and went to the hospital.
After the incident, Liana reverted to regressive behavior, including thumb-sucking and withdrawal.
At school, Liana sat alone at a separate table under a sign declaring her peanut allergy. The child interpreted this as punishment, which added to her psychological problems. Her mother pulled her out of school, and they moved to Michigan.
Pace sued the principal, the cafeteria workers and the local school board, and filed a negligence lawsuit against the state of Maryland, its board of education and its superintendent of schools.
She claimed that the state was negligent in failing to have a plan in place for peanut-allergic children like Liana.
The state argued that it was protected by sovereign immunity and that control over lunch programs reside at the county level, not at the state level.
The trial court ruled that the state did not have a special duty to ensure that Liana did not eat peanuts. Judge Timothy Meredith affirmed the decision at the appellate level.
"We are not persuaded that these statutes impose a duty on the state defendants that would make them liable for failing to ensure that no cafeteria worker ever fed peanut butter to a child who is allergic to peanuts," the judge wrote.
"We have been unable to find any reported case anywhere in the country in which a student has sued a state for monetary damages to compensate for a food-related injury that was alleged caused by a violation of their the National School Lunch Act or regulations pursuant to that statute."
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