A 25-year-old dancer from New York City tragically died this week after suffering an allergic reaction from eating cookies purchased from the supermarket chain Stew Leonard’s that contained undeclared peanuts.
Victim Identified as Aspiring Dancer Orla Baxendale
The victim has been identified as Orla Baxendale, an aspiring Broadway dancer. Baxendale had a severe peanut allergy and went into anaphylactic shock after unknowingly eating cookies with peanuts from Stew Leonard’s, dying shortly after.
Baxendale was a New York native who dreamed of being a professional dancer. She studied dance growing up and was an instructor at the Broadway Dance Center, according to a statement from her family’s law firm.
“Orla Baxendale was an extraordinary woman with immense talent and beloved by all those who knew her,” attorney Jeffrey Bloom said in the statement. “As a child, Orla excelled in dance and received admission to the prestigious Alvin Ailey School at Fordham University at the young age of 16 because of her incredible talent.”
Fatal Allergic Reaction After Eating Mislabeled Cookies
According to reports, Baxendale attended a gathering on January 21st and consumed cookies from a package labeled as vanilla florentines from Stew Leonard’s. The cookies had allegedly been prepared by Stew Leonard’s in-store bakery under a different label indicating peanut ingredients, but were somehow mislabeled after baking.
Within 15 minutes of eating the cookies, Baxendale went into anaphylactic shock. Those present administered epinephrine via EpiPen to try and save her, but it was unsuccessful. Baxendale was transported to Danbury Hospital where she was pronounced dead.
Supermarket Chain Recalls Cookies, Vows to Investigate
Stew Leonard’s has issued a recall for their florentine cookies and stated they are cooperating fully with health officials investigating the incident.
In a statement posted on the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection website on January 23rd, Stew Leonard’s wrote:
“We were deeply saddened to learn that the cookies consumed by this customer contained peanut allergen,” the store wrote in a statement posted to the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection website on Jan. 23. “Stew Leonard’s has strict food labeling procedures in place to protect customers with food allergies, and we are cooperating fully with the authorities to investigate the circumstances behind this tragedy.”
All eight Stew Leonard’s stores located throughout Connecticut and New York were instructed to remove the cookies in question from their bakery department. Signs were posted advising customers of the recall.
Family Suing for Gross Negligence
Baxendale’s family has retained counsel from New York law firm Gair, Gair, Conason, Rubinowitz, Bloom, Hershenhorn, Steigman & Mackauf. The attorneys released a statement indicating they would be pursuing litigation against Stew Leonard’s for negligence.
“We intend to conduct a full investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding this tragic incident, but preliminary examination suggests blatant violations of federal requirements for food labeling and protections for those, like Orla, with food allergies,” attorney Jeffrey Bloom said.
The statement alleges Stew Leonard’s failed to accurately label ingredients and handled food in a grossly negligent manner. They stated that companies need to take proper precautions when preparing allergen-related foods.
Allergy Advocacy Groups Call for Improved Food Labeling Laws
Several allergy organizations and advocates have spoken out regarding the death, saying it is further evidence that more needs to be done to protect those with severe allergies from accidental exposure.
Over 32 million Americans have food allergies, with around 200,000 requiring emergency room treatment each year due to accidental ingestion according to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). Strict labeling and food preparation laws are needed say advocates.
“Our hearts break for the family and loved ones of Orla Baxendale,” said Lisa Gable CEO of FARE, in an emailed statement. “We implore food manufacturers and retailers to double down on strict food allergen labeling and production protocols to prevent such tragedies from happening.”
The tragedy has shed further light on the issue, which advocacy groups hope leads to improved health policies. Senators recently introduced a bipartisan bill aimed at establishing national labeling standards for companies producing allergen-related foods.
What Comes Next in Legal Case
The lawsuit against Stew Leonard’s is still in early stages, but attorneys for Baxendale’s family say they will aggressively pursue damages through the courts.
“We will work tirelessly to ensure that Orla’s family finds justice for the utterly preventable death of their beloved daughter and sister,” said attorney Jeffrey Bloom.
Proving negligence and liability in cases related to food allergies can be complex, often relying on arguing violations of existing regulations like the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA).
Legal experts say the family will need to demonstrate conclusively that improper labeling by Stew Leonard’s directly led to Baxendale ingesting peanuts and her subsequent death. If so, a large settlement or jury award is likely according to litigators. The case may eventually set new precedents impacting allergen labeling laws.
The tragic death of Baxendale has raised awareness regarding the severe dangers improperly handled food allergens pose. Her family, advocacy groups, and politicians hope lasting change comes from the devastating loss of her life.
Timeline of Key Events
|Orla Baxendale born and raised in New York City. Developed love of dance at young age.
|Baxendale, 16, attends prestigious Alvin Ailey School at Fordham University on dance scholarship.
|January 21, 2024
|Baxendale attends gathering and eats cookies containing peanuts purchased same day from Stew Leonard’s. Enters anaphylaxis shortly after ingesting.
|January 21, 2024
|Baxendale is transported to hospital where she passes away that same evening.
|January 23, 2024
|Connecticut Dept of Consumer Protection announces Stew Leonard’s is recalling cookies.
|January 25, 2024
|Law firm publicly identifies Baxendale, 25, as the victim. Says they will pursue legal action against Stew Leonard’s.
This timeline covers the key events related to Orla Baxendale’s death after eating mislabeled cookies from Stew Leonard’s. It provides context around her background as an aspiring dancer, what is known about the day she fatally ingested peanuts, the supermarket’s recall following her death, and her family announcing intentions to sue over the tragedy.
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