Las Vegas woman awarded $41 million after allergic reaction to pretzel

A jury has awarded $41 million (US$29.5 million) to the family of a woman who was left brain-damaged after being treated for a severe allergic reaction by an ambulance service in Las Vegas in 2013.

Then-27-year-old Chantel Giacalone went into anaphylactic shock after biting into a pretzel infused with peanut butter while in Las Vegas for a convention, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported on Friday.

Giacalone’s lawyer, Christian Morris, said she lost oxygen to her brain for a period of minutes after seeking treatment from MedicWest Ambulance, which was running the medic station that day.

In 2013, Chantel Giacalone was modelling clothes at the MAGIC trade show at the Mandalay Bay South Convention Centre.

Giacalone attended with her friend Tara Retes.

Retes bought a frozen yogurt for each of them. She picked a bite-size pretzel as a topping, not knowing it contained peanut butter.

Retes testified that her friend had mentioned her peanut allergy in passing, but she did not know the severity of it.

When Giacalone bit into the pretzel she asked Retes what was in it.

“I kind of tasted it again, and I said, ‘I think there’s peanut butter’,” Retes testified. “And she jumped back, and she said, ‘I’m allergic’.”

Giacalone called her dad. “I’m having a hard time breathing,” she told him.

“I could hear it in her voice she was panicking,” Jack Giacalone told jurors. “I never heard from her after that.”

Retes said that when she made her way to the medic tent, it was clear her friend couldn’t take the Benadryl EpiPen. Her throat was closing, and she was black and blue.

The medics only had intramuscular epinephrine in their bags – which they deployed – but the IV is required for when a patient is going into anaphylactic shock.

Giacalone lawyers argued in a civil lawsuit that MedicWest Ambulance negligently treated her allergic reaction.

Morris argued that neither of the two medics on site that day had IV epinephrine, an adrenaline treatment for severe allergic reactions that is required by the Southern Nevada Health District.

According to testimony during a three-week trial, the requirement was established by a task force the company sits on.

He argued the cost of the drug was only US$2.42. The lawsuit was seeking more than US$60 million in damages for medical expenses and emotional suffering.

MedicWest denied any wrongdoing and said the outcome was inevitable because of Giacalone’s heightened sensitivity to peanuts. Attorney William Drury argued Giacalone never lost consciousness.

“At least my daughter will be taken care of. I’m happy about that,” father Jack Giacalone said after the verdict was read on Friday.

“All the anguish that we’ve been through for the last eight years, I’m not happy about. I just hope MedicWest changes their ways.”

– additional reporting Las Vegas Review-Journal

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