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August 26, 2014

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ADA Protection for Children with Food Allergies and Negligent Serving

Anaphylaxis, the most common reaction to food allergies, can be serious and life-threatening. Anaphylaxis can cause a rapid onset of rashes, swelling of the face and throat, as well as serious neurological, cardiovascular, and respiratory problems. According the Center for Disease Control (CDC) 4 to 6 % of children under the age of 18 have a food allergy that can lead to anaphylaxis.

Children with a family history of asthma or allergies or a genetic predisposition for allergic disease are at greatest risk for food allergies. Young children, under the age of 3, are particularly vulnerable. The CDC believes that the rates of children diagnosed with food allergies appear to be on the rise.

The most common sources of food allergies include: dairy, eggs, fish, gluten, legumes such as peanuts, shellfish, soy, and tree nuts. A significant percentage, upwards of 18%, of children suffering from food allergies have allergic reactions to food given to them at school. However, now students may have legal protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA forbids schools and businesses open to the public from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. Earlier this year Lesley University, located in Massachusetts, settled a lawsuit brought by the US Department of Justice alleging that the school violated the ADA by failing to provide students suffering from food allergies accommodations in its meal plan system.

Protection by the ADA is fairly new approach to protecting students with food allergies. Additionally, schools also owe a legal duty of care to the children that attend. Negligently serving or failing to warn students of allergen contaminated food when the school is aware of a student’s allergy can lead to liability for the child’s medical complications and injuries. Food manufacturers who fail to warn of allergens may also be liable for selling products with defective warnings.


Mary Clare, Food service vulnerable to food allergy lawsuits, (January 18, 2013).

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