Family of woman who died after eating cookie not labeled as containing peanuts sues grocery chain

The estate of Órla Baxendale says the 25-year-old dancer, who had a severe peanut allergy, consumed the "deadly cookie" from Stew Leonard's in January.
Florentine cookies
Posted at 7:05 PM, May 29, 2024

The family of a woman who died after suffering a severe allergic reaction from a supermarket cookie has filed a wrongful death suit against the grocery chain and the product's manufacturer.

In the lawsuit, filed May 23 in Connecticut, attorneys representing Órla Baxendale's estate allege the 25-year-old dancer died "as a result of the gross negligence and reckless indifference to the rights of others and an intentional and wanton violation of those rights by" East Coast grocer Stew Leonard's and Cookies United, which manufactured the ultimately fatal cookie Baxendale ate on Jan. 11.

"An innocent victim with a lifelong history of known severe peanut allergy," per the lawsuit, Baxendale experienced an anaphylactic reaction causing issues in breathing and swallowing, increased heart rate, sudden weakness, "feeling of doom and dread with accompanying terror, cardiac arrest, loss of consciousness and death" after eating the Florentine cookie. Her estate's attorneys argue there's "startling and overwhelming evidence" that Stew Leonard's is liable and that Cookies United caused the young woman's death by failing to warn of its allergen contents properly.

That evidence includes an alleged email Cookies United sent to "no less than 11" Stew Leonard's employees on July 20, 2023, saying the cookies "now contain peanuts." The lawsuit asserts employees were given updated labels with peanuts listed as an ingredient but that the supermarket chain ignored the email and never updated the cookie's packaging.

Following Baxendale's death, on Jan. 23, Stew Leonard's issued a press release claiming Cookies United never notified them of the change in ingredients, saying, "We sold them in good faith, and one customer was affected."

In response, Cookies United said it did notify the grocer of the ingredient change, and included a copy of the email it sent Stew Leonard's employees, adding that "the incorrect label was created by, and applied to, their product by Stew Leonard's." Stew Leonard's removed their press release from their website "immediately thereafter," the lawsuit states.

Further evidence the attorneys for Baxendale's estate say is an admission of Stew Leonard's guilt include a video press release from Jan. 24 in which Stew Leonard Jr. stated the cookie the dancer ingested was purchased from their store and that it sold 500 packages of mislabeled Florentine Cookies.

"While Stew Leonard's claims to have a 'philosophy built around an acronym for S.T.E.W.: Satisfy the Customer; Teamwork gets It done; Excellence makes it better; Wow makes it fun' their actions in this matter starkly betray the self-promotion philosophy they claim to uphold," the lawsuit states.

Packaging of cookies does not show the presence of peanuts.

Food and Drink

Woman dies after eating cookies not labeled as containing peanuts

Justin Boggs
12:20 PM, Jan 25, 2024

Around the same time as the press and video releases, the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection recalled the Vanilla and Chocolate Florentine Cookies, as did Stew Leonard's.

"This is a heartbreaking tragedy that should never have happened," said CDCP Commissioner Bryan T. Cafferelli. "DCP Food Investigators are working hard with the Department of Public Health, local health departments, officials in New York State and New Jersey, the Food and Drug Administration and Stew Leonard's to determine how this error happened and prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the future. Our condolences go out to the family affected by this incident."

The family released a statement also around that same time, which was about two weeks after Baxendale's deadly allergic reaction.

"Órla's family, devastated by this unimaginable loss, wishes to express their gratitude for the outpouring of support and tributes from around the world," the statement from attorneys Howard S. Hershenhorn and Marijo C. Adimey read. "She was a radiant and brave soul who pursued her dreams relentlessly, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts of those who knew her."

Baxendale had recently moved from England to New York to pursue a career as a dancer at the time of her death. Her obituary says she was featured in numerous productions in various types of dance, including ballet, contemporary and Irish step.