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The family of professional dancer Órla Baxendale is suing Stew Leonard’s grocery chain, a cookie manufacturer, and employees for wrongful death. Baxendale died after eating a mislabeled Vanilla Florentine cookie that contained peanuts, causing her to go into anaphylactic shock. Her family claims that the supermarket failed to note the allergen risk on the package’s label, leading to the tragic incident. The lawsuit alleges gross negligence and reckless indifference to others’ rights by the professionals involved.

The lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $15,000 in addition to monetary and punitive damages determined by the court. It accuses Stew Leonard’s, the specific Connecticut branch where the cookies were purchased, and several employees of negligence for ignoring a manufacturer’s July 2023 email stating that the cookies now contained peanuts. Despite at least 11 workers receiving the email, the supermarket failed to update the ingredient labels, resulting in Baxendale consuming the cookie and suffering the fatal allergic reaction due to her severe peanut allergy.

The family claims that the fact that Stew Leonard’s recalled several products for incorrect labels following Baxendale’s death is evidence of the broken systems in place at the grocery chain. Stew Leonard Jr., the CEO, admitted to the company’s culpability in Baxendale’s death in a video statement. The lawsuit also holds Cookies United LLC responsible for manufacturing, packaging, and selling the product to Stew Leonard’s, leading to Baxendale’s tragic death.

Official regulators publicly admonished both Stew Leonard’s and Cookies United in assessments following Baxendale’s death, emphasizing the importance of correct labeling for people with food allergies to appropriately protect themselves. The lawsuit claims that by failing to ensure accurate labeling for the Vanilla Florentine cookies, both entities violated state and federal regulations. Stew Leonard’s declined to comment on the suit, while Cookies United did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the press.

Órla Baxendale was originally from Manchester, England, and moved to New York City in 2018 to study at the Ailey School on a scholarship. She had performed at New York Fashion Week and was involved in productions at Lincoln Center. The tragedy highlights the importance of proper labeling for food allergies and awareness to prevent avoidable tragedies like Baxendale’s death. The lawsuit seeks justice and accountability for the errors that led to the loss of a talented young dancer.

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