Family of Dancer, 25, with Peanut Allergy Who Died After Allegedly Eating Mislabeled Cookies Sues Grocery Store

Órla Baxendale died in January, allegedly after eating Florentine cookies

Órla Baxendale
Órla Baxendale

The estate of Órla Baxendale, a 25-year-old professional dancer with a severe nut allergy who died in January after allegedly eating mislabeled Florentine cookies, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the grocery store that sold the cookies.

In the lawsuit filed on May 23 and reviewed by PEOPLE, the attorneys representing the estate allege that Baxendale 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” the supermarket, Stew Leonard’s, and the cookies’ manufacturer, Cookies United. Both the supermarket and manufacturer are listed as defendants. The lawsuit was filed in Superior Court in Waterbury, Conn.

A spokesperson for Stew Leonard's told PEOPLE that they cannot comment on pending litigation. PEOPLE also reached out to the general counsel for Cookies United.

<p>Instagram</p> Órla Baxendale


Órla Baxendale

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Baxendale ate the Florentine Cookies on Jan. 11, according to the lawsuit. On Jan. 24, her family’s attorneys released a statement claiming she died of anaphylactic shock that day, echoing claims made in the complaint. Officials from the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) and the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) also said in January they were investigating the incident.

Bexendale had an EpiPen with her, but her allergy was too severe, her family's attorneys said in a January statement. “After she began to have an anaphylactic reaction, an EpiPen was used but due to the severity of her allergy, it was not effective,” attorney Marijo C. Adime claimed at the time.

The dancer, “like all consumers, relied upon the manufacturer and seller to properly label the package sold to the general public,” the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit calls the failure to properly label the cookies “grossly negligent, intentional, reckless, callous, indifferent to human life, and a wanton violation as the manufacturer and seller were required under the law to properly declare the ingredients.”

Related: Football Players Put Peanuts in Allergic Teammate's Locker — School District Says It's Not Bullying (Exclusive)

Stew Leonard’s recalled both the chocolate and vanilla varieties of the Florentine Cookies made by Cookies United due to a labeling error, according to a Connecticut State Department of Consumer Protection alert from Jan. 23. The supermarket acknowledged that one person died possibly because of the mistake. On Jan. 25, the supermarket warned consumers that the cookies contained undeclared eggs and peanuts.

"Stew Leonard’s is working with the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection and the supplier to determine the cause of the labeling error," the Jan. 25 statement read. "Customers who have purchased these cookies should bring back the product to Stew Leonard’s customer service for a full refund."

Stew Leonard’s CEO Stew Leonard Jr. issued a video statement on Baxendale’s death, sharing his condolences with her family. “The supplier changed the recipe and started going from soy nuts to peanuts and our chief safety officer at Stew Leonard's was never notified,” Leonard Jr. claimed in the video.

<p>Stew Leonard’s</p> Stew Leonard's recalled Florntine Cookies

Stew Leonard’s

Stew Leonard's recalled Florntine Cookies

Related: 25-Year-Old Dancer with Severe Peanut Allergy Dies After Eating Incorrectly Labeled Cookies

However, Cookies United issued a press release on Jan. 23, alleging that the misprinted label “was created by, and applied to, their product by Stew Leonard’s.” The company also included documents it claims showed it told Stew Leonard’s employees about the recipe change in July 2023.

“On July 20, 2023, approximately six months prior to this tragic death, no less than eleven employees of the Stew Leonard’s Defendants, were notified by email of the change in ingredients, including the addition of peanuts to the cookie recipe, by the defendant cookie manufacturer, Cookies United LLC,” the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit alleges that Stew Leonard’s “ignored” the email and “never changed the label or the nutrition fact panel and never properly updated the packaging.” The supermarket chain’s system to “maintain and update the proper labels was broken, unreliable, inherently dangerous, undependable, untrustworthy, erratic, and deplorable,” the lawsuit claims.

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