A federal judge has stated that the Publix supermarket chain must face product liability and negligence claims after an Alabama boy died from eating a cookie from an in-store bakery.

The lawsuit alleges that Publix is responsible for the allergic reaction after a worker claimed the cookies were free from tree nuts.

The parents of the boy, Gary and Sandra Beth Cline, say that their 11-year-old son accompanied them into a Clarksville, Tennessee Publix store and died soon afterwards. The family purchased cookies from the bakers after a bakery employee assured them that they contained no tree nuts. Shortly after eating the Chocolate Chew cookie, the boy, who was allergic to tree nuts, had a reaction and died later that evening.

Supermarket chain attempted to have case thrown out

Publix attempted to have the lawsuit dismissed because items purchased in the store and meant to be eaten immediately, such as cookies from the display case, are exempt from food labeling laws. The judge disagreed, however, stating that the same cookies are packaged for sale for later consumption and are then required to be labeled.

“Based on the allegations of the complaint, the court is unpersuaded that Publix bakery items taken from the display case, like the Chocolate Chew cookie, are ‘generally consumed immediately where purchased or while the customer is walking away.’ The complaint plausibly alleges that a number of the products sold by Publix bakeries are sold for consumption at home – just like the allegedly identical bakery products that are packaged and sold in the same area of the store (i.e. the Chocolate Chew taken from the same batch as those sold in the display case but sold in plastic packages with labels),” she wrote. “For these reasons, the court concludes that the plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that the Publix bakery was subject to the labeling requirements [under federal law].”

Further, Tennessee law may have required labeling of the cookies regardless of how they were packaged.

The boy was visiting his aunt and accompanied by his mother while traveling to Tennessee.

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