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Judge: Md. is not liable in peanut allergy case

Saturday - 2/25/2012, 6:00am  ET


On Nov. 9, 2005, a Hillcrest Elementary School student with a peanut allergy was given a peanut butter sandwich by a cafeteria worker at lunchtime.

The 5-year-old girl had an anaphylactic reaction but survived. She later transferred to another school.

Judge Clayton Greene Jr. ruled Wednesday that the state is not liable for the incident, according to documents filed in the Maryland Court of Appeals.

The child's mother, Nicole Pace, originally filed suit against the state in Frederick County Circuit Court in November 2006, court documents state. She alleged the state had violated the National School Lunch Act.

The case was dismissed because the act "merely establishes a subsidized lunch program for the benefit of all children at participating schools, and does not impose a specific statutory duty of care towards children with food allergies," Greene wrote. He affirmed the dismissal. The girl was served the sandwich because she went to the cafeteria that day without enough money to buy a school lunch, according to the court. In such cases, the school would serve students a NSLA-subsidized lunch, which consisted of either a bologna sandwich or a peanut butter sandwich.

Christa Williams served as the health specialist for Frederick County Public Schools for 31Ú2 years and said the school system has always taken measures to keep students safe. She would not comment specifically on the 2005 incident, but said many updates in protocol have been made since then.

Guidelines are reviewed "every few years," Williams said.

Though the state requires schools to provide "peanut-free" tables, Frederick County implemented them before it was a law, she said. The schools also use a system that places medical alert tags on student forms so special medical needs can be tracked. Individualized care plans for students are in place, she said.

The school system is working on updating its policies even further, based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information that was distributed over the summer, Williams said.

The Pace family and their lawyer could not be reached for comment.