A settlement stemming from a lack of gluten-free foods at a Massachusetts university sets a precedent that requires public establishments, such as restaurants, to accommodate the dietary restrictions of those with severe food allergies.
Lesley University, a college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had no gluten-free options for a student with celiac disease and the courts ruled that the university made no effort to provide a reasonable accommodation. Using the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as support, the student filed a lawsuit after the university refused to exempt the student from the meal plan, which resulted in Lesley University being forced to provide reasonable accommodations and paying $50,000 as settlement for the case.
Can the same thing happen to you? Absolutely, as this case sets a precedent as to how similar cases might be handled in the future. Furthermore, even if you say you will honor their request, you need to take caution while you’re preparing their meal. Peanut allergies range from mild to very severe. If your cook handles peanuts before preparing their meal, the patron could have a severe allergic reaction and sue your business. Your general liability insurance coupled with product liability coverage should pay out both the legal and medical fees, but you may be on the hook for ADA guidelines.
Actions speak louder than words. Did you really provide a reasonable accommodation to the patron’s request? A judge may not take your verbal confirmation seriously when considering the facts.
You might attract potential customers to your restaurant by being allergy friendly. While ADA guidelines will most likely force your hand, it serves as a positive for your restaurant beyond being compliant to avoid lawsuits. Think of it as a smart business decision!
• Notate your menu: Some menus use little icons and a legend to notate which items are gluten-free, nut-free, and dairy-free, etc. Adopting this method should help patrons identify safe foods a lot easier, acts as a paper trail to document your allergy-friendly policies and curbs lawsuits.
• Train your employees: You can’t have an allergy-friendly business without training your employees to handle food products appropriately. Make ServSafe certification a requirement for any prospective employee or send them to get certified before they are allowed to prepare meals.
• Purchase General and Product Liability Insurance: When accidents happen and someone sues, your restaurant can pay the price in a BIG way! Insurance will cover the legal and judgment costs providing the claim filed is a covered loss under your policy.
Need to discuss restaurant insurance? Give Brian Kilcoyne from H&K Insurance a call at 617-612-6515 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org!