Gluten Free Meals and Lawsuits

There are two lawsuits working their way through the court systems and I’m not sure how I feel about them.

The first is about a boy on a field trip in 2017 in Colonial Williamsburg. The boy brought his own sandwich on the field trip because of gluten intolerance or celiac disease. I cannot get a clear picture of which one it is because in my mind in makes a difference – but more on that later. The boy was told the restaurant could prepare him a gluten free meal. The boy refused saying that he had eaten at many restaurants and none were able to keep him safe. The boy then was sent outside to eat his sandwich in the rain.

The second suit is regarding a man with Celiac disease at a Grand Canyon hotel. The gentleman at the restaurant ordered french onion soup. The man asked the waitress several times to confirm with the chef that the soup could be made gluten free. An hour later the man was sick and is now suing the hotel for permanent damages to his health. He is seeking unspecified damages to be awarded at trial.

These lawsuits cause me a great deal of internal deliberation and concern. I’m not so sure I agree with either of the suits being brought for different reasons.

Regarding the boy at Colonial Williamsburg, the federal court that let this move ahead because the boy had eaten at several restaurants and could not trust this one to provide him a safe meal. I’m not sure if the boy had Celiac or a gluten intolerance. There are no tests to prove someone has a gluten intolerance or not – it is a diagnosis of elimination. Because the diagnosis cannot be confirmed through current scientific methods, can it be considered a protected status under the American with Disabilities Act?

Furthermore, the according to the Richmond Times Dispatch, the court ruling also stated that, “noted that Shields Tavern has rigorous protocols for preparing gluten-free meals that may suffice for most people with gluten intolerance.” May suffice for most people with gluten intolerance. That sentence is the one that is throwing me off because I don’t know if the boy has a gluten intolerance or Celiac. As a celiac sufferer, this

I had a two paragraph rant here about NCGS or Celiac. But that isn’t the point. The point is that the boy was treated poorly. He should not have been put out in the rain to eat his lunch alone.

The parent, teachers, and restaurant all known this boy with a food issue was going to be at this restaurant. A plan should have been put in place to help him through the situation. The restaurant should have been made aware that a child with a food issue was coming and what was the plan for handling the issue. This boy was failed at multiple points along the way in this scenario and it should not have gotten to the point it did. This lawsuit could have been avoided and should have been!

I’ve got a completely different issue with the man at the Grand Canyon. French onion soup is inherently gluten containing by virtue of the crouton in the soup. The crouton can be removed to make the soup gluten free – maybe – but stocks often contain gluten. The restaurant probably assumed that if you remove the crouton the soup would be gluten free without thinking about the beef stock.

Okay, they made a simple mistake. This man has had Celiac disease for a while and should know better. I’ve had this discussion with restaurants about French Onion soup before. I’ve asked about removing the crouton but also about the beef stock. I ask if they make the stock in house or not. If in house, I feel confident that they know what is in the stock. If not in house, I don’t order it because there is too much risk. Yes, I know I’m armchair quarterbacking this and it is pretty easy sitting here behind my computer to critique someone else — but that’s the benefit of writing my blog. 😉

This man is not looking for protection under the ADA. He is looking for a settlement. He says that he is permanently damaged and he should receive a settlement determined by the jury. This is seems like a cash grab. The only thing this lawsuit is going to produce is restaurants will stop offering gluten free options knowing they may get sued if you get sick from their food. As I see it, this lawsuit is exceptionally dangerous.

So, I worry about our community in a larger sense. Is Celiac something that should be protected under the ADA and what does that look like? Will gluten free options be pulled from menus in an attempt to protect against law suits? Will NCGS be a protected status too? What does a diagnosis of NCGS look like because a diagnosis of exclusion isn’t good enough!

Really, it just means we need a cure or some medicine to help us. 😉

3 thoughts on “Gluten Free Meals and Lawsuits”

  1. Here is my take on both cases:
    The parents of the young boy were smart and thought ahead to send him on the trip with a premade safe meal.celiac or not in this case i believe the restaurant was wrong.
    The other gentleman is an adult. As a celiac he should know that every time we dine is a literal crap shoot! I have dined at the same chain restaurant, same location 10 times..9 times i was gfine..1 time got that the restaurants fault..well maybe to an extent..but i take full responsibility.this is my disease and as such i own it. The only way to prevent the possibilty of getting glutened is if you prepare your own food in your own kitchen..and thats not even a 100 % guarantee. I think he should not get a dime, that he should take responsibility for his decision to dine there and that people like him are the ones that make restaurants not want to offer foods for those with special dietary requirements.

  2. Using your logic, blind people should know better than to walk in public where they may be at higher risks and no one should be liable if they are harmed. -_- Obviously this is NOT the case! And for a good reason. If a restaurant or maufacturer of a food product claiming to be ‘gluten-free’ is not, then thay need to be held liable. They choose to put the label ‘gluten-free’ to attract more customers to grow their profit margins. If they are not held liable, then the problem will grow, thereby putting more people at risk.
    Of course common sense is needed also. I personally check online to verify if other people whom are gluten-sensitive have had any bad experiences.

    1. Common sense is what I’m talking about here.

      Walking into a restaurant, demanding they change their menu to accommodate your gluten free needs, and then suing because you became sick, is not common sense. First off, there is no way to prove that the particular meal you ate made you ill. The person that got sick could have eaten anything in the past 24 hours to make someone ill. Second, restaurants do have a responsibility to say if they are providing a gluten free meal – which has legal ramifications. However, you will notice, most restaurants have changed their description to “gluten friendly” which has no legal definition. Finally, the world is not made for the few of us that have celiac disease. We have to be exceptionally careful.

      In your example, a blind person would not go to a trampoline park on a busy Saturday and expect accommodations. They might receive accommodations, but they might not. Nor should we expect to go into a restaurant without a “gluten friendly” menu bringing in our food food and not expect to be asked to leave. We might even order from the menu but have a 50/50 chance of getting ill after the meal.

      Finally, the ADA does offer certain protections for those with celiac disease. These protections are limited and do not cover a restaurant where you voluntarily chose to eat. The ADA protections are more for places where purchasing a meal is required and they do not offer gluten free meals – college dorm and meal plans is the best example.

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