(CN) – Supermarket chain Publix must face product liability and negligence claims after an Alabama boy died from eating a cookie bought in one of its bakeries, a federal judge ruled.
Gary Cline, Sabrina Beth Cline and Stephanie Blankenship sued Publix Super Markets Inc. and Publix Tennessee LLC in March.
Beth Cline’s 11-year-old son, Derek Wood, died in June 2014 after eating a cookie bought at a Clarksville, Tenn., Publix location. Cline had asked a bakery employee if a “Chocolate Chew” cookie contained tree nuts and the worker said it did not, which turned out to be wrong.
“Following his consumption of the cookie, Wood’s health rapidly declined as a result of his allergic reaction,” the ruling states. “Despite medical treatment by both his mother and medical professionals, Wood died later that evening as a result of anaphylactic shock.”
The Clines and Blankenship sued on multiple negligence and product liability claims.
U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger denied Publix’s motion to dismiss last week, ruling that food sold in its bakery display cases is not exempt from the requirements of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act.
“Based on the allegations of the complaint, the court is unpersuaded that Publix bakery items taken from the display case, like the Chocolate Chew cookie, are ‘generally consumed immediately where purchased or while the customer is walking away.’ The complaint plausibly alleges that a number of the products sold by Publix bakeries are sold for consumption at home – just like the allegedly identical bakery products that are packaged and sold in the same area of the store (i.e. the Chocolate Chew taken from the same batch as those sold in the display case but sold in plastic packages with labels),” she wrote. “For these reasons, the court concludes that the plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that the Publix bakery was subject to the labeling requirements [under federal law].”
The judge also held that Publix may have been obligated to issue an allergy warning with the cookie per Tennessee law.
“There is no suggestion that the plaintiffs could have reasonably expected to find an allergen in the cookie,” Trauger wrote. “Therefore, at this stage, taking the allegations of the complaint as true, the court concludes that the plaintiffs have appropriately alleged that the cookie was ‘unreasonably dangerous’ at the time that it left the seller’s possession.”
Wood lived with Cline in Alabama and was visiting Blankenship, Cline’s sister, with his mother when he died, according to the ruling. Plaintiff Gary Cline is Wood’s grandfather and was his legal guardian.
A Publix spokeswoman told Courthouse News that the company’s thoughts and prayers are with Wood’s family but it isn’t able to comment on pending litigation.
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